|School:||Strath Haven High School, Wallingford, PA|
Penn State Linebacker Coach Ron Vanderlinden was the first to receive the good news from Dan early Tuesday afternoon. Connor then spoke with Fran Ganter followed by Joe Paterno himself. The coaching staff was as excited as Dan that he chose State College as his home for the next 4 or 5 years.
"The comfort level there was unbelievable," an exuberant Connor said. "I'm so used to the coaches. I've been up there a million times. I worked with Coach Vanderlinden at camp 2 years ago and I really like how they run things. Everything runs smoothly, it's a learning atmosphere. It's not screaming in your ear, cursing, the old school method, everything's a teaching environment. It's real similar to my high school. It was just how comfortable I felt on the visit and watching a practice and being coached by Coach Vanderlinden. All that came together and it just felt like the right school for me."
Connor had originally planned to make his decision public this Sunday.
"My family and I were just talking [Monday] night and just felt that there was no reason to wait until Sunday. We felt pretty confident in the decision, everyone was happy with it, everyone felt comfortable with the school and we figured why not the next day, call up the coaches the day before they have camp and tell them the decision."
Notre Dame gave Connor the most to think about prior to making his final decision. The Wolverines also made a strong push.
"It was pretty close. I have nothing but great things to say about Michigan and Notre Dame. They're great schools, great coaches, and they did everything right in the recruiting process, but it came down to Penn State and Notre Dame and I think Penn State felt more like a home environment."
Although proximity also played a key role in Connor's decision making process, his respect for the Penn State coaching staff, and Coach Vanderlinden in particular, was what made the difference.
"[Coach Vanderlinden] is a real modest guy, one of the most modest guys I've ever met in fact. He's done some amazing things and coached some unbelievable players, he doesn't tell anybody that, he really keeps it to himself. His knowledge of football is unbelievable. My dad's been coaching real long too, [some at the] college level, he's been around the game his whole life. My dad was just so impressed sitting down talking football with him and picking up new stuff, just going through the game. Coach Vanderlinden is just such a bright guy. Playing for a coach who makes you feel comfortable enough that he knows the game and you respect him as a football mind as well as a teacher, I think that helped me a lot in choosing."
Connor could actually be under Coach Vanderlinden's tutelage as early as next January is he goes ahead with plans to graduate high school early and enroll at Penn State for the 2004 Spring semester.
"I have to okay it through the school, but it's pretty likely. I was talking to Coach Vanderlinden, he brought it up again when I talked to him today. It seems like a great idea just to get in there, check out the game speed and get lifts and runs under my belt before my grade comes in. It seemed like a good idea. I haven't gotten it fully checked out, but I set up my schedule and everything for it. I just need to talk with the guidance counselors, that's the last step and then it looks pretty good."
Dan is Penn State's 16th public commitment already this recruiting season and the 6th in-state prospect to choose PSU.
"I'm hoping that my commitment could maybe convince Henne or convince Tyrell Sales or Rory Nicol. I'm hoping that these guys can come around and see that we have something good going in-state and maybe join on."
Connor joins an already tight-knit group of future Nittany Lions who have made it their mission to help Penn State sign one of the top recruiting classes in the nation come February.
"I talked to a couple of them already today, about 4 or 5 called today. Greg Harrison's been calling since the spring game when he got my number and A.Q. Shipley's been calling, so they were really pushing hard. Even the recruits are coming together to pick up new guys and it seems like a really tight-knit class and I think that's good. Hopefully, we can get something going together. If we're this close just going into our senior year of high school, five years from now it should be pretty wild."
Dan received congratulatory calls on Tuesday from current Penn State commitments Matt Hahn, Dan Lawlor, Wyatt Bowman, A.Q. Shipley and Greg Harrison.
His former Strath Haven teammate, Josh Hannum, had also been extolling the virtues of Penn State.
"He wasn't really telling me I have to go there or anything like that. He was real relaxed about it and kind of letting the school sell itself. He'd tell me all about it, tell me how much he loves it and how all the coaches are great and always asking about me, so that really told me something about them. If they're checking with Josh every day about me then it seems like they're pretty interested."
Dan is both relieved and excited to have the process of making his college choice behind him.
"I'm really excited. I'm really happy with my decision. I think I made the right choice."
Nittany Lion fans couldn't agree more.