On a conference call with beat writers Thursday, Penn State offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis was asked to spend 10 or 15 seconds going over his pitch to prospects.
After 10 or 15 seconds, he had discussed the high level of excitement about the Nittany Lions under new coach James Franklin and the fact that the staff was laying a new foundation for the future of this program.
And Gattis was just getting warmed up. The next 30 seconds were spent on Penn State being the 37th-ranked school in the country academically and the power of the school's massive alumni association, the largest dues-paying group in the nation. Wherever a PSU grad lands, he explained, there are going to be active Penn State alumni to help you through your transition.
The next 30 seconds were about Penn State being one of the most storied programs in all of college football featuring a history of past national championships and undefeated seasons, and how prospects can look at Beaver Stadium on a football Saturday and see, 107,000 of the best fans in the country.
There's a lot to sell as far as this program, he said, and he was seemingly intent to touch on every aspect he could. By the time his pitch was over, Gattis had spoken for nearly two minutes, and a few of the folks on the call were probably ready to commit.
More importantly, the message has been heard loud and clear by Penn State's recruiting targets. As of this writing, the Nittany Lions had 20 verbal commitments for their Class of 2015. The class ranked No. 7 nationally and was by far the highest-rated group in the Big Ten (Ohio State checked in at No. 16).
As fine-tuned as the pitch may be -- and as well as Franklin and the new PSU staff have done on the recruiting trail to date -- Gattis admitted the whole operation is still very much a work in progress.
Although to the world, while it may seem like we're ahead of everybody, we're still behind the eight ball, he said. We're still gathering information on our recruiting areas.
“Although to the world, while it may seem like we're ahead of everybody, we're still behind the eight ball. We're still gathering information on our recruiting areas.”
Franklin was hired away from Vanderbilt Jan. 11, and eventually brought most of his staff with him to PSU. That included Gattis, who came on board Jan. 15.
The initial recruiting focus was on holding together and completing the Nittany Lions' Class of 2014. Once that was complete, everyone on the staff was assigned their recruiting areas, which included a specific region of Pennsylvania for each coach and national areas for each coach. NCAA rules limiting how often coaches can travel to see prospects have made it difficult for those assistants trying to get a handle on new areas.
When you count just getting here Jan. 15, then going through spring recruiting, for a lot of coaches we've had less than 20 days to be in our recruiting areas, Gattis said. The past nine or 10 months have been challenging in trying to get caught up in your recruiting area, trying to get caught up with all the [high school] coaches. Within a recruiting area, you can have over 150 schools. Just imagine only having X number of days that you're able to go out.
Another issue the staff had to tackle when it arrived at Penn State was how to handle the lingering effects of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which included NCAA sanctions that took away scholarships and banned the Nittany Lions from postseason play. The game plan, according to Gattis, was to focus less on the past and more on where Franklin intended to take the program.
It was a big hurdle at first, Gattis said. Getting the job, I think we had to have a strategic plan where we attacked some of the concerns and questions of recruits early on. We were able to lay down our vision for this program and for the future of this program.
The scholarship limits and bowl ban were both lifted earlier this month. However, even before that happened, Penn State had landed 19 of its current 20 verbal commitments. While gaining back the scholarships will likely allow the Lions to sign a few more prospects in this class, Gattis said the most important beneficiaries of the sanctions being eliminated were the current players.
It's a huge relief for the kids within the program, he explained. I think that's where we're going to be able to feel the impact of the sanctions being lifted faster than in recruiting.
But the impact will be felt in recruiting, if not so much this year then in the not-so-distant future. Along those lines, with the Class of 2015 so far along, the staff has been able to spend a lot of time working on the Class of 2016 and beyond.
Having the assistant coaches developing a better feel for their respective recruiting areas should help in that regard, too.
We're still working very, very hard to close the gap on the time we missed here, Gattis said. We're working extremely hard to develop the relationships with the coaches, with the players and their families, to show them what Penn State is all about.
As much time as he spent outlining his pitch, it took Gattis only five seconds to sum up the program's current state of recruiting.
We're happy where we are right now, he said. But we still have a lot of room to grow and a lot of work to do.