How The West Was Won

Assistant Terry Smith helped lead Penn State’s recruiting resurgence in western Pennsylvania.

Penn State offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis is receiving plenty of praise for helping the Nittany Lions compile the nation's 13th best recruiting class, and with good reason.

One of Gattis' recruiting areas encompasses Philadelphia and South Jersey, and PSU cleaned up in the region. Eight members of the Class of 2015 hail from the general area, and seven of them hold four-star rankings.

But there was an unsung hero on the Penn State staff, too. You just have to dig a little deeper to appreciate the work defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith did.

When James Franklin put together his staff after landing the PSU job in January of 2014, Smith was the only member without previous ties to the new head coach.

But Smith had ties to Penn State, where he still ranks 11th in career receiving. And he had ties to the high school scene in western Pennsylvania, where he was the longtime coach and athletic director at WPIAL power Gateway in Monroeville (his high school alma mater).

Both experiences came into play as Smith -- with an assist from fellow Pittsburgh area native Bob Shoop -- helped the Nittany Lions re-establish themselves as a strong recruiting presence in the region.

"We had prior relationships in western Pennsylvania, which is where I’m from," Smith said. "I don’t know if there’s a school that I don’t know somebody in that school. I was an athletic director in western PA, and I was on the state athletic directors’ committee. So I knew a lot of people throughout the state.

“And Bob Shoop is very popular," Smirh added. "He knew all of the same people in western Pennsylvania. So we were able to tag team people in western PA, probably better than any school in the nation just because of our prior relationships.”

The biggest get -- literally and figuratively -- was early enrollee offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins. Jenkins was the first four-star prospect from the WPIAL to sign with Penn State since 2010.

And for a while, it looked like that might be it for PSU from the region. The only other prospect in the area with an early Lion offer was DB Jordan Whitehead, and he ended up staying home to attend Pitt.

A month or so after Whitehead was off the table, Penn State offered Pittsburgh Central Catholic safety Johnny Petrishen. He did not commit on the spot, and in fact waited until late January to announce his decision. But from the time he was offered, every expert had him pegged as a future Lion.

Then, when Penn State learned it had some scholarship flexibility in late January due to the repeal of the NCAA's Consent Decree with the university, the staff quickly pounced on two more prospects from the western half of the state. That both had previously been committed to Pitt made it that much sweeter for Nittany Lion fans.

Tight end Nick Bowers of Kittanning committed shortly after making an official visit to campus in late January. Then linebacker/defensive end Kevin Givens of Altoona committed less than 24 hours before Signing Day, without ever making an official visit to PSU.

Bowers was the top-ranked tight end in the state, Givens the No. 1 outside linebacker. So to have that caliber of player ready to flip at a moment's notice was impressive.

Of course, it wasn't all about Smith. As noted, Shoop also recruits western Pennsylvania, and played a big role in landing Bowers. Meanwhile, linebackers coach Brent Pry is from Givens' hometown of Altoona.

But when you see what Penn State did overall in the region this year and realize that the Lions already have a commitment from the WPIAL's top prospect for 2016 (Woodland Hills RB Miles Sanders), it is fair to connect a few dots.

And they lead to a Pittsburgh area product … and former Penn State star … and former high school coach and AD in the region.

See what Smith had to say about recruiting in Pennsylvania in the video above.

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