Grading out The Class of 2008

On Wednesday, Penn State received commitments from its newest class of football recruits. Marquee names like Dan Connor and Anthony Morelli spearhead a very fine recruiting class for the Nittany Lions. Marsh takes a look at just how well Penn State did.

Offensive Linemen

Greg Harrison, Shenandoah, PA (Shenandoah Valley) - At 6-5 and 300 lbs., Greg is both big and athletic. Greg is a very bright student having earned a 3.7 gpa and an 1120 SAT score. Greg was a first team small school AP All-State selection after having started all four years at Shenandoah Valley HS. Greg is both quick and powerful and has very good balance. Most experts rate Greg the top lineman in Pennsylvania. One coach who worked with Greg at our summer camp personally told me "You'll love Harrison, he'll be the gem of this class". Jamie Newberg of The Insiders says, "On film, he is a very impressive offensive line prospect. Harrison, 6-5 and 295 pounds, is a fluid tackle that moves very well that can beat you physically or with finesse. Harrison is quick off the ball, a dominating drive blocker, and he is very effective in space. He can get out to linebackers, pull and get down field on screen plays. Harrison is a very good pass protector with those very long arms. He plays hard and is very aggressive out there."

Harrison spoke of his commitment to Penn State, "I just realized it was the best place for me both academically and athletically. I put a lot into the decision and I wanted to wait until July and August. But I was there for the Blue and White game and I just got this feeling about Penn State. I also had offers from Notre Dame, Stanford, Colorado, Michigan State, Ohio State, Virginia, NC State and others." Greg added later, "Miami was slated to come in to see me at school and make an offer, but I decided to commit to Penn State and not drag things out."

Greg was also very instrumental in bringing in many of the other recruits in this class. The Insiders rates Harrison the #4 offensive lineman in the entire country.

Wyatt Bowman, Mechanicsburg, PA (Cumberland Valley) - A 6-6, 325 lbs. offensive tackle prospect, like Greg Harrison, Wyatt Bowman also committed very early at the Blue White game. It was that same weekend that Wyatt Bowman had a dominating performance at the Student Sports Penn State Nike Combine. Wyatt was the main cog in an offensive line that helped fellow Penn State recruit Dan Lawlor become the top fullback in the Mid Atlantic region. Wyatt was named a Student Sports Nike All American. He chose Penn State over Notre Dame, Boston College, Maryland and Pitt.

Austin Hinton, Secaucus, NJ (Secaucus) - At 6-5 and 285lbs., Austin will play either guard or tackle at Penn State. Austin was a bit inconsistent in his camp appearances over the summer, but at Penn State he was called the best offensive line prospect at week one of the summer camp. The coach I spoke with who worked the camp told me that Hinton looked like a great athlete who just needs to be a little more consistent. The rumor mill says Austin might enroll as a grey shirt.

Rich Ohrnberger, East Meadow, NY (East Meadow) - Rich Ohrnberger committed after attending week three of Penn State's summer camp sessions. Ohrnberger is widely regarded, along with Stanford recruit Alex Fletcher, as the co #1 offensive or defensive line prospect in New York state. Rich is 6-3 and 275lbs. Rich mentioned in an interview with Steve Curry that Coach Anderson told him that he reminded the PSU OL Coach of several former Penn State greats. That he did the little things the right way.

East Meadow Head Coach Vinny Mascia spoke of Rich Ohrnberger, "He bench presses 330 pounds, hang cleans 315 and squats 490. Last season, he had 64 pancake blocks. His best attribute is his run blocking. I have coached for 21 years and he is easily the best snap to whistle kid I have ever had. Rich is also a tremendous leader."

"Amazing. I feel like a part of something special with this class. I want to start thinking National Championship and Bowls with this group coming in. A strong OL is the backbone of any team."

"Hearing that from Coach Norwood and also my coach saying the same thing (about making his commitment), I really started measuring things out in my head and I was thinking about where have I been or coaches that I've talked to where I've felt the best, was treated the best--talked to like a gentleman, dealt with like a gentleman. Penn State was at the top of that. That's one win doing the pro's and con's. How about facilities? Beaver Stadium--come on. Their weight room, their training table, their whole football facilities were just incredible. So they're on top of that list too."

Rich Ohrnberger won several post season awards. First, Ohrnberger received the Martrone Award as Nassau's outstanding lineman. He was a unanimous choice. Then he walked away with the 63rd Tom Thorp Award, given to Nassau's outstanding football player at any position. He became just the third lineman in the last 25 years to earn the Thorp Award. Finally, Ohrnberger was a unanimous selection as a New York large school first team all state offensive lineman.

Trent Varva, Lake Orion, MI (Lake Orion) - Trent Varva is a 6-3 300lbs keg of dynamite from his offensive guard position at Lake Orion High School. A three year starter along the offensive line, Trent twice was named an Associated Press first team all state in Michigan's largest class of schools. Trent was also named to the Detroit Free Press Dream Team two years in succession and is regarded as one of two major bigtime offensive line prospects in Michigan along with Michigan commit Alex Mitchell.

Trent Varva had one of the quickest Nike forty and shuttle times among 300lbs. Linemen at all the Nike events around the country this year. I had a chance to watch Trent's highlights this year and it's obvious that he has a quick initial burst and that he hits very hard and goes all the way through his blocks. Trent chose Penn State over offers from Colorado, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State and numerous Big 10 schools.

Why not Michigan for Varva? "They thought I was too short. They called my coach to tell him that. That bothered me big time. I poured my heart and soul into being a Wolverine. I will have a personal vendetta going against them."

The Detroit News rates Trent Varva the #1 offensive lineman in Michigan. The Insiders rates Trent the #40 offensive line prospect in America. Trent will play guard or center at Penn State.

Gerald Cadogan, Portsmouth, OH (Portsmouth) - Gerald Cadogan is a huge prospect for the Penn State offensive line. Coming into the Penn State Nike camp at 6-7 and 310lbs, it was pretty obvious that Gerald's future was at offensive tackle. Gerald's strong point is probably his athleticism for such a large player.

After receiving a verbal offer from Michigan in late July, it appeared Gerald was headed to the Wolverines, but one week later he became Penn State's 6th and final offensive line commitment. After an excellent senior season at Portsmouth where Gerald earned first team all state honors in Ohio's Division 4, the Ohio State Buckeyes brought Gerald in to Columbus for a visit. But Gerald stayed with his commitment to Penn State.

Duane Long of Ohio Future Stars had Gerald Cadogan rated among Ohio's top 25 players overall. The Insiders rates Gerald the #37 offensive line prospect in the country. Curt Clifford, Portsmouth head man, had this to say about Gerald's senior year "Gerald had a great year. He really came along. I was a college offensive lineman and ended up in a few pro training camps so I know line play. This is a special one."

Analysis - Penn State went after Kyle Mitchum early, but they backed off of him later on. Other than Kyle and a great prospect out of New York named Alex Fletcher, Penn State pretty much got all the players they wanted. Grade A.

Defensive Tackle

A.Q. Shipley, Coraopolis, PA (Moon Area) - A.Q. Shipley was one of the most sought after defensive line recruits in the nation this year. A.Q., also known as "Q", first jumped onto the recruiting scene when he was named a third team large school all stater after his junior year in high school. Shipley followed that up with a dominating appearance at last year's national junior combine in San Antonio, TX. A.Q. attended last May's Virginia Tech Nike camp after which he was named camp MVP among linemen, a Student Sports Nike All American and National Hot 100 Player. Shipley, widely felt to be the top defensive tackle prospect in the northeast, went on to receive offers from just about every school in the Northeast, mid Atlantic and Midwest before choosing Penn State.

After a stellar senior campaign, Shipley was tabbed an Associated Press first team Class AAA all state defensive tackle, a Pittsburgh Post Gazette Fab 22 slecetion and an NSN Sports (Pittsburgh based) Elite 11 prospect. Shipley was the only lineman, offensive or defensive, to be named to that Elite 11 team. A.Q. Shipley is about as good a defensive tackle prospect as Penn State has brought in since current NFL player Brandon Noble.

A.Q. wasn't short on reasons why Penn State came out on top. "Every school that I visited always pointed back to Penn State. Everywhere I went, I'd like it, but then it would always point back to Penn State."

"Their academics, their graduation rate, it's one of the top in the country if not the top, playing time, early playing time, also the fact that they can get defensive linemen to the pros as we saw this last draft. Coach Johnson's a great guy, I get along real well with him. Coach Bradley has done a great job recruiting me.

"I told Coach Bradley and Coach Paterno came down. They were real excited. I took a few pictures with Joe Paterno. I went to lunch right after that and came back and they had their last session of the summer camp, so I went out and just told Coach Johnson, the D-Line coach. He almost tackled me on the field he was so excited.

Elijah Robinson, Camden, NJ (Woodrow Wilson) - Robinson played his senior year of high school football in 2002 as an Associated Press first team all state selection at Woodrow Wilson High School. I had the opportunity to watch Robinson, then a 6-3 260lbs defensive end, play in a televised match up against Camden Catholic, one of New Jersey‘s best football teams. Robinson showed very good athleticism and burst off the snap. He was a fierce up field pass rushing specialist who wreaked havoc most of the time.

Robinson had originally chosen to attend Tulane University, but academic transcript issues arose which forced him to sit out a year. The second time around he chose Penn State over offers from Tulane, Iowa and Purdue. Robinson, a Prep Star all region selection after his 2002 season, has added 35lbs and now weighs in at 6-3 and 300lbs. If he has maintained that athleticism I saw a year and half a ago then we have a very good prospect in Elijah Robinson.

Analysis - At first glance, I thought Penn State would be one and done at DT with A.Q. Shipley. If you need only one prospect at a position and you fill that slot with a super blue chipper like A.Q. Shipley, you get an A+ on that one player alone. Bringing in Elijah Robinson just makes it all the better. Grade A+.

Tight Ends - Defensive Ends

Mike Lucian, Frederick, MD (Linganore) - Mike Lucian is the youngest member of the February 2004 signing class. Mike is a two time all state selection with his senior year nomination netting him a consensus all state selection in Maryland. Mike was rated the #12 overall prospect in the entire Maryland/DC area by The Insiders. At 6-3 and 250lbs, and still growing (Mike's father is 6-7), it's not yet clear where Mike will end up at Penn State. Mike spearheaded a tough Linganore Defense that won the Maryland large school state title in a 28-0 shutout win over Lackey HS. In that state title game, Lucian spearheaded a defense that shut down Lackey's super junior RB Morgan Green to only 71 yards on 31 carries.

Linganore head coach Rick Connor had some very positive things to say about Mike Lucian, his talented tight end/defensive end. "Mike is a super athlete that posssesses great skills as a football player," Connor said. "Most teams run away from Mike's side of the line of scrimmage when on defense. One of his greatest assets, besides his size, is his ability to move his feet. Mike is a very coordinated player capable of playing in space because of his agility. He is equally adapt at playing physical football at the point of attack. He has a great work ethic in the weight room." Mike is a very quick athlete for his size as evidenced by his super quick 4.42 shuttle time at Penn State's April Nike camp.

Mike had this to say about Penn State, "That's the offer I was waiting for," Mike said. "Last year, I went up to Penn State's camp and I just fell in love with the place. Growing up as a kid, I was a diehard Notre Dame fan and my dream was to go to Notre Dame. But, when I found out that I had the chance to play DI football, I started looking at the schools that I liked. I've been to a bunch of camps, and Penn State just seemed like the perfect fit for me."

The Insiders rates Mike Lucian the #10 TE prospect in America. Lucian is slated to play one of the defensive line spots for Penn State.

Jed Hill, Struthers, OH (Struthers) - When Jed Hill committed to Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno on June 16, 2003, Penn State fans collectively said "Jed Who?". You see, Jed was an unknown quantity among recruiting fans. Jed had suffered a season ending broken foot only 6 quarters into his junior year, thus little attention came his way. But college coaches knew of Jed Hill. Jed received letters of intent applications from coaches at Michigan and other schools hoping to lure Hill away from Penn State, but Jed would have none of that. He was sticking by the school that stuck by him.

Jed Hill plays football and basketball at Struthers HS. He's also a standout boxer having accumulated a perfect 16-0 amateur record in the squared circle. I have been told by more than one person who has met Jed Hill things like "you have to see this kid", and "this kid is pretty different from your normal high school prospect". Now having seen a couple of pictures of Jed Hill I'm starting to understand. Those college coaches knew what they were doing.

Jed Hill reportedly bench presses over 400lbs, does an 890lbs leg press and has a 34 inch vertical leap. Jed attended Penn State's summer camp this year where he reportedly ripped of a 4.1 shuttle time, an amazing time for a man of his size. He also reportedly jumped 34 inches in the vertical leap and benched 225 pounds an astonishing 25 times. More importantly, he displayed impressive blocking skills and a great pair of hands. Jed was offered on the spot and promptly accepted the offer, choosing Penn State over Michigan and Nebraska.

Explained Jed's high school coach Gary Zetts, "The defensive coordinator at Nebraska, Bo Pellini, came in and he said I keep on hearing about this kid and I want to see this kid. He said that (Jed's) a freak of nature. He's mammoth. There's no body fat on him. He's just something else. (Coach Pellini) said to him, 'if you come to Nebraska's camp, I promise you I will offer you.' (Jed) called him today and told him that he has already committed to Penn State. They were his first true love about going somewhere."

Coach Zetts believes that Penn State did an excellent job selling their program and one coach in particular really stood out in Jed's mind.

"Jay Paterno's the real reason that Penn State has him. The Michigan coach came in and saw him and he goes, 'that kid's a real freak of nature.' We were throwing at 7 o'clock in the morning and Jed's running routes and catching balls. And he said, 'no one's recruiting a kid who looks like him.' Tim Spencer came in from Ohio State and said they're not recruiting anyone who looks like him. But everyone said to send me a tape but I told them there is nothing to send. But Paterno saw the kid as a sophomore and liked what he saw."

Zetts continued, "Everyone wanted him to come to their camp and they said when our head coach sees you, we guarantee you you'll be offered. That was Wisconsin, Michigan State, all the Big Ten Schools, the Big East schools like Pittsburgh, WVU, Syracuse and Boston College came in to see him."

"But he's gone to Penn State so many times that it's unbelievable. He would go up almost every home weekend to watch Penn State play. Again, it was because of Jay Paterno, who saw the kid in the hallway as a freshman," reiterated Zetts. "He said, 'if Penn State offers me that's where I want to go because they make me feel at home.'"

Jed Hill finally got onto the field for Struthers this fall, and the Associated Press took notice naming Hill their Division 4 first team all state Tight End. Jed Hill is The Insiders #37 Tight End.

Josh Gaines, Fort Wayne, IN (Northrop) - Josh Gaines is a 6-3 255lbs DE/TE who registered 110 tackles and 13 sacks as a junior. Gaines followed that up with another dominating effort as a senior in earning first team all state honors. Midwest recruiting analyst Chris Pool had this to say of Josh Gaines, "Watching Gaines on film, its mind boggling that he didn't have more scholarship offers."

The 6-foot-3, 253-pounder, from Ft. Wayne (Northrop) begins his highlight film by showing his agility in the gymnasium by doing star drills and running 40-yard dashes against running backs. Josh shows off his awesome vertical leap by standing under the basketball hoop and slam dunking with two hands.

A couple of shots in the weight room show Gaines' strength as he shows the college recruiters his squat and power clean technique. Pool goes on to state, "It's going to be scary what Josh Gaines is going to look like after a couple of years in the Nittany Lion weight room." Josh Gaines had offers from Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, and Michigan State. Schools like Tennessee, Colorado, Michigan and Boston College told Gaines that if he camped, they'd offer.

FortWayne.com stated of Gaines, "Josh Gaines ended one of the most intensive recruitments of a high school football player from Fort Wayne in over a decade on Saturday. Gaines, who will be a senior this fall at Northrop High School, is no longer an active recruit in his mind. He now proudly proclaims himself to be a Nittany Lion. Gaines can bench press 365 pounds, run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds and has a 33-inch vertical leap.

Josh Gaines was named the named by the Indiana Coaches Association as their Indiana Defensive Player of the Year. Coach Larry Johnson told Josh that he is targeted to play defensive end at Penn State. Josh is The Insiders #24 TE.

Jordan Lyons, College Park, GA (Woodward Academy) - Jordan Lyons comes from great stock. His father, renowned physician Dr. Tommy Lyons, was a 2 time all American at Georgia before going on to play six years as the starting center for the Denver Broncos. Jordan played QB at Woodward Academy and had several scholarship offers at that position, namely from the Stanford Cardinal, Maryland, and Michigan State. However, most experts believe he will wind up playing tight end at Penn State, a spot at which, in addition to Penn State, several ACC schools and the Georgia Bulldogs offered.

Lyons, at 6-5 220lbs, is also an accomplished power lifter who has set numerous school weight class lifting records for Woodward Academy's renowned power lifting team. In 2003, Jordan pulled off a 291.5lbs Clean, 27 inch vertical, and 4.61 forty during Woodward Combine testing. The Atlanta Journal Constitution named Jordan a top 30 football player in Georgia, a top 100 player in the South, and the #1 TE in Georgia. Jordan is expected to play TE here at Penn State.

Jimmy Shaw, Spring Grove, PA (Spring Grove) - Jimmy Shaw is not technically a part of the February 2004 signing class as he is a transfer from Rice University, but given the transfer took place only recently I'm including some information here. Jim Shaw will have the 2004 season to sit out before gaining two years of eligibility in 2005 and 2006. Jim Shaw transferred to Penn State, in part, to rejoin his younger brother John Shaw, a member of last year's recruiting class.

Jim Shaw was a first team PA all state selection at DE in 2001 as well as being the York Daily Record Player of the Year. Jim currently goes 6-4 and 260lbs and will probably play DE here at Penn State.

Analysis - Jed Hill and Jordan Lyons give Penn State two very good athletes at TE. Hill is a bigtime prospect and so is Lyons at TE, especially given Lyons power lifting attributes and his father's NFL pedigree. Gaines looks to be targeted at DE, as does Lucian, but either could flip to offense if needed, thus giving Penn State a lot of flexibility. Throw in Jimmy Shaw at DE and you have a lot of talent here. We are talking about a lot of high end kids rated among the very best in the country. Getting both quality and depth, Penn State did very well. Grade A.

Wide Receivers

Mark Rubin, Buffalo, NY (Amherst Central) - Mark is a 6-4 210lbs wide receiver who owns numerous Western New York records, and he even makes an appearance on the New York State receiving records. Mark's career marks of 167 receptions is second best all time in New York State. His 2,488 receiving yards are third best all time in New York State. Finally, Mark's 34 career touchdowns is a Western New York State all time record.

Mark committed to Penn State after an excellent camp effort in which he ran a 4.55 forty. His size, athletic ability and soft hands make him a big target to throw at. Often compared to former Penn State great Joe Jureviscious, Mark was named a New York State Class 1 first team all state selection at wide receiver. In 9 games as a senior, Mark had 63 receptions for 924 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Mark is also a state champion and national caliber swimmer in the freestyle sprints. Mark is The Insiders #73 nationally ranked WR. Mark was obviously the consensus top wide receiver in New York this past fall. Mark chose Penn State over offers from Syracuse and Boston College and heavy interest from Virginia Tech.

Analysis - Penn State needed to do a better job of evaluating the wide receiver position in terms of how many players they needed. While Mark Rubin looks to be a very high end possession type receiver, realistically, Penn State needed at least two and probably three WR's in this class. Penn State offered Chris Ogboyanna, Fred Davis, Derrick MacPhearson, Sydney Rice and Johnny Peyton and failed to land any of them. They never even got in the game with New Jersey WR Dwayne Jarret. Especially in light of our 2003 on field performance, a critical failure to bring in a true field stretching wide receiver can't be overlooked. Grade D.

Quarterbacks

Anthony Morelli, Pittsburgh, PA (North Hills) - Penn State's final recruit of the 2004 signing class is also one of it's marquee names. Anthony Morelli. Penn State fans far and wide know the saga of Chad Henne from front to back. Penn State needed QB's desperately this year and the Nittany Lion staff put all of it's recruiting eggs into the Chad Henne basket early on. Chad privately promised to come to Penn State and Anthony Morelli wound up committing to Pitt.

Something funny then happened on the way to the opera, er, stadium. Chad Henne chose to change his mind and commit to Michigan in August, thus leaving Penn State at the proverbial alter. When Anthony Morelli gave his commitment to Pitt a full introspection, and considering the fact we still needed a big time QB prospect, Anthony Morelli chose very late in the game to commit to Penn State.

Anthony Morelli is the top rated QB to come out of Pittsburgh proper and the WPIAL at large in two decades. The Insiders rates Anthony the #3 QB in the nation this year. This 6-4 210lbs strong armed QB attended the National Elite 11 camp twice and was twice named a Pittsburgh Post Gazette Fab 22 selection. Morelli had offers from many of the nations better football programs, but he really only seriously considered Pitt and Penn State.

"There were a lot of things Penn State had to offer as far as academics," said Morelli who plans to major in kinesiology. "It was about more than football. It opened my eyes. I thought that this was the place I needed to be."

As a junior at Penn Hills HS, Anthony Morelli completed 78 passes over 148 attempts (53% completion percentage) for 1,880 yards and 21 touchdowns, while throwing only 9 interceptions. He averaged an incredible 24+ yards per completion.

As a senior, Morelli was 96/184 for 1,649 yards, 15 TD passes and only 4 interceptions. For his career as a four-year starter, Morelli was 268/590 for 5,244 yards and 56 touchdown passes. Nationwide, Anthony was ranked a consensus top five QB by the many scouting services. As noted previously, The Insiders rates Anthony the #3 QB in the country.

Paul Cianciolo, Fort Dorchester, SC (Fort Dorchester) - At 6-5 and 220lbs, Paul Cianciolo is a tall strapping cut of QB from Fort Dorchester, SC. Paul threw for a school single season passing record of 2,867 yards this year with 30 TD's against only 12 interceptions. Paul has over 5000 throwing yards and 28 touchdowns in his career. Paul has thrown for 176 completions in 316 attempts for a 56% completion percentage.

Dorchester head coach Steve LaPrad describes Cianciolo as a pure drop back or shot gun pocket QB with good awareness, a strong arm, and strong leadership. Perhaps those attributes were best on display in this year's playoffs. Paul led Dorchester to the Class AAAA state semi finals for the first time in school history. In a wild second round playoff game against Irmo, Paul led a furious fourth quarter comeback completing 17-of-28 passes for 335 yards and five touchdowns in a thrilling 39-32 victory. Cianciolo would complete 15 of 32 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns for the Dorchester Patriots the following week in a state semifinal loss to eventual state champ Sumter.

Cianciolo, according to Patriots' coach Steve LaPrad, is a 4.9 student (grade-point average) who might be the class valedictorian, and everything else that Penn State looks for when it goes hunting student-athletes. Paul had this to say about Penn State, "It doesn't get much better than coach Paterno. I took my visit up there on Dec. 5, and that pretty much decided it for me. I enjoyed all the coaching staff, all the other players coming in that I met. The facilities they have to offer, and the academics, are first-rate."

ESPN.com's Tom Lemming picked Cianciolo as the best quarterback in South Carolina, and he was not shocked that Penn State chose him. "I met him this spring, and I liked him," Lemming said. "(Penn State) I think they're really excited about him, potentially. He's got a big-time arm, he's 6-5 and his dad played college ball. He's got the bloodlines and the arm strength." Paul's father, Fred, played tight end at the Air Force Academy from 1978-81, and his brother, Joe, is a sophomore linebacker at the Air Force Academy.

Daryll Clark, Youngstown, OH (Ursuline) - Daryll Clark is a 6-3 195lbs QB from Eastern, Ohio. Duane Long rated darryl the #2 QB and #17 player overall in Ohio this year. Darryl is an excellent athlete with quick feet, shiftiness, and a strong arm. Darryl was an Insiders Big Ten Hot 100 selection who chose Penn State over offers from Nebraska, West Virginia and Iowa.

Darryl will enroll at Kiski Prep for one year before becoming a member of our Feb. 2005 signing class. Commitment: January 29, 2004.

Analysis - Given Penn State's 3-9 record this past fall, and especially given how Chad Henne left Penn State at the alter, getting a late commitment from Anthony Morelli along with Paul Cianciolo, the grey shirt commitment of Darryl Clark, and the flexibility that Jordan Lyons, Kevin Suhey and Adam DiMichele (I'll talk about those two players later) add to this class is simply off the charts big. No matter what else is ever said about this class one thing is for certain, the staff did what it ultimately took to bring in some major firepower at QB. Grade A+.

Cornerbacks

Tony Davis, Warren, OH (Howland) - As decorated as some of the other members of the Feb. 2004 signing class are, Tony Davis doesn't have to take a back seat to any of them. Davis is simply an exceptional athlete, a tremendous football player, and terrific young man.

Davis is 6-0 and 180lbs. He runs track at Howland HS running the 100 meters, 110 meter high hurdles, and anchoring the Howland 4 x 100 meter relay team. I was able to read about Tony's track exploits in the Warren Tribune Chronicle and Youngstown Vindicator this year, noting that Tony has run the 110 meter high hurdles in the mid 14 second range. That's elite level speed and athleticism.

At the Michigan technique camp last spring Tony ripped off a 4.41 forty, 41 inch vertical jump and 3.90 shuttle. These are also elite times and measurements. Tony wowed Michigan Asst. Coach Ron English. Tony recounted the meeting, "I met Coach English. He explained everything, went through everything. He said he was just going to keep on recruiting me and stay on me." But Tony stuck by his commitment to Penn State and the Nittany Lion Nation is very happy about that. Tony, who plans to major in marketing at Penn State, reaffirmed all the things that drew him to Penn State. "I like the coaching staff, the facilities, the school," said Tony. Any school that has called Tony looking to recruit him got the same message. "I pretty much told them all that I'm all right. I'm going to Penn State."

Tony Davis had an exceptional senior year at Howland HS. Although he'll be a cornerback at Penn State, Tony actually made his mark on offense this season, rushing for 1,818 yards and 17 touchdowns. Tony added over 1000 all purpose yards to those totals in leading Howland to it‘s first ever 10 game winning streak.

People took notice of Tony's exploits this fall. Tony Davis was honored by the Trumbull County Coaches Association with Trumbull's Player of the Year. Ironically, Pittsburgh's Walt Harris was the guest speaker at that event. Tony was similarly honored by the Youngstown Vindicator as their Mahoning Valley (Younstown and Warren Areas) Player of the Year. Finally, the Associated Press tabbed Tony Davis as their Ohio Statewide Division 2 Co Player of the Year. That's just about all the hardware you can win as a prep football player in the state of Ohio.

Analysis - Tony Davis is Grade A athlete and cornerback prospect. He's an elite level corner prospect. But corner is a position where Penn State is simply desperately thin, so despite the fact that Tony Davis himself is an "A" caliber corner prospect, I can't give the position itself a similar grade. Penn State needed at least two and perhaps three corners. Had Penn State not gotten such a high end athlete as Davis I'd have given this spot an even lower grade. Grade C.

Running Backs

Matt Hahn, Huntington, NY (St. Anthony's) - Matt Hahn is a 6-1 210lbs "super back" who runs a 4.5 forty and just punishes would be tacklers. Matt became Penn State's first recruit of the Feb. 2004 signing class when he announced for the Lions just two full weeks into the recruiting year. Matt is a two time CHFSL first team all star, winning the CHFSL Player of the Year Award his senior year. Matt also was named The New York Daily News New York Metro Player of the Year and the New York State Player of the Year after leading St. Anthony's to their third consecutive CHFSL title with over 2000 yards rushing and 36 TD's.

Matt had numerous other major offers from schools like Georgia Tech, Maryland, Syracuse and Boston College. The Michigan State coaching staff also offered, telling Matt that by May, he could choose from any school in the country because he would have so much interest, but Matt never really considered going anywhere except Penn State.

How does Matt describe his running style? "I like to hit people, I like contact, so I think I run with more of a defensive mentality. I can get away from you and I can run around guys, but, especially if I need to get that extra yard, I'm pretty good at putting my head down and just getting it. I'm a very physical running back. I don't shy away from contact at all."

Dan Lawlor, Mechanicsburg, PA (Cumberland Valley) - Cumberland Valley head man Tim Rimpfel compares Dan Lawlor to former CVHS star and current Philadelphia Eagle Jon Ritchie. Dan, the top fullback prospect in the state earned Associated Press 1st Team All-State honors this season after rushing for over 1,500 yards and scoring 36 touchdowns. With his decision to attend school at Penn State, Dan joins current teammate Wyatt Bowman as part of the Nittany Lion family. Did Wyatt have an influence on Dan's decision to become a Nittany Lion? "Not really. He was in my ear a lot about Penn State. He didn't influence me into going there. It was my decision and I was really comfortable with it," explained Dan, who jokingly called Wyatt the "Penn State Spokesman."

Dan spoke of Coach Ganter's reaction to his commitment, "He was really thrilled that I'm going to be going there. He just told me welcome aboard and welcome to the family. He told me I would receiving the ball, running the ball, and blocking like any other fullback would."

At 6-3 235lbs and running a 4.6 forty, Dan plays the game in a throwback punishing style. A quick look at The Insiders ratings shows that we rate Dan Lawlor one of the top 2 or 3 pure fullbacks in the nation and in all of New England, the Midwest and the Mid Atlantic regions.

Analysis - Given that Penn State had taken three pure ball carriers in the prior class in Austin Scott, Tony Hunt and Rodney Kinlaw, and considering the departure of Sean McHugh, the fifth year status of Paul Jefferson, and the rumored move of Brandon Snow to LB, Penn State needed to add a couple of bigger backs to the squad. It's hard to argue the merits of two players, one of whom is the New York State Player of the Year and the other of whom is regarded as the top pure FB within 350 miles of State College. There is no doubt that Penn State met their needs with Matt Hahn and Dan Lawlor. The Nittany Lions will begin to focus on getting at least one top flight speed back in the next class. As for their efforts this year, they did well. Grade A.

Linebackers

Dan Connor, Wallingford, PA (Strath Haven) - I have probably seen more of Dan Connor over the past four years than I have seen of any Penn State commitment in many years. I'm a big fan of Strath Haven Panther football, and Dan Connor has been the main cog on Coach Kevin Clancy's Panther juggernaut for the past several years.

At 6-3 and 225lbs, Dan plays the MLB position at Strath Haven the way it is meant to be played. He's a relentless pursuer of the football while also displaying textbook form in dropping back into passing lanes. Incredibly, Dan looks like he is in on almost every running play. Despite that all out pursuit to the ball, Dan has recorded a phenomenal number of interceptions for a linebacker at any level.

Dan, a four year starter at Haven, doubled up as the Panther's fullback the past three years. Dan ran for nearly identical totals of 1700+ yards and 25 TD's each of the past two years. Dan comes from a tremendous football background. His father Jim is the defensive coordinator at Strath Haven, one older brother played at Boston College and the other is currently at Lehigh. Dan selected Penn State from a veritable who's who of college football power houses. He literally could have named his program.

In PIAA high school football, the maximum number of games any player could possibly play in a year is 15. Over four years, that maximum potential number of games becomes 60. But most teams play 10 or 11 games in a year. In the past four years Dan Connor started 59 games at Strath Haven. He played in four PIAA Eastern State Championship Games and three PIAA State Championship Games.

So how good is Dan Connor? He's good enough that the Philadelphia Inquirer sent out Bill Bergey to do a feature story on him. Bergey said Dan possessed all the tools to become a great LB at any level. High praise coming from a former all Pro like Bergey. Dan was also the very first three time Associated Press first team all state MLB. Dan was named the Maxwell Club High School Player of the Year for the Philadelphia Area. The Philadelphia Inquirer named Dan it's Metro Player of the Year. Dan made several All American Teams and was tabbed by The Insiders as the #2 LB in America.

Dontey Brown, McKeesport, PA (McKeesport) - Dontey Brown is a 6-3 250lbs MLB who is widely felt to be the best MLB prospect out of Western, PA since Brandon Short. McKeesport head coach George Smith in describing Dontey Brown says, "Dontey is so big and so physical, he plays with such intensity….Dontey has such incredible hip flexibility that he could be 3 feet away from you and still unleash an incredibly explosive hit. Dontey gets his respect on the field. He gets it from other football players. The high school kids here in Western, PA that are going to Pitt and other places, they all respect Dontey."

There was a time when Dontey Brown wasn't very familiar with any place east of Pittsburgh or west of McKeesport. But Dontey formed a positive impression of Penn State when he came up for the Blue White Game last April, "I went up with a couple of coaches from Gateway (Editor's Note - Super Junior Justin King goes to Gateway HS,,,Hmmm). The one coach used to play for McKeesport, so he took me up there. We sat in a couple of meetings and watched the draft and I got a chance to talk to Brandon [Short] up there. He was real excited that I was from McKeesport and that I was thinking about going to Penn State."

Both in-state schools, Penn State and Pitt, offered Dontey scholarships quickly this past spring. They knew what others might not have known, that Dontey Brown was a major talent at LB. Head coach George Smith spoke of Dontey's recruitment, "He had been to Pitt maybe four times with his parents. He really liked Pitt. But, he went up to Penn State for an unofficial visit with his parents and then he went back and watched the spring game. He really like the school and liked the way the coaches responded. He was just impressed with the whole thing."

There was another suitor that came hard after Dontey Brown as well. Michigan told me they were going to offer me, but I didn't want to go all the way to Michigan. My mom wanted me to stay kind of close to home. She even thinks Penn State is kind of far," he laughed, "but she likes Penn State." Michigan wanted Dontey bad enough that after he committed to Penn State one of the Michigan coaches paid a quick visit to McKeesport to check on Dontey, but to no avail. Brown was fully committed to Penn State.

Dontey Brown went on to have a stellar senior campaign. In an informal poll of WPIAL coaches this past fall regarding the best defensive players in the league, the name Dontey Brown surfaced at the top. Dontey was named to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Fab 22 team, he was also named the Associated Press Class AAAA first team all state MLB as well. The Insiders rates Dontey Brown the #27 LB in the nation.

Tyrell Sales, Butler, PA (Butler) - While Dontey Brown seemed to garner a lot of post season recognition this year, it was Tyrell Sales who was getting the attention following his junior year at Butler HS. A 6-4 235lbs OLB, Sales has been an imposing force during his high school career at Butler HS.

In addition to Penn State, Tyrell was hotly pursued by Pitt and had this to say of his recruitment and choice, "I like the Pitt coaches and everything, but I don't think Pitt was the place for me, because I don't know if I really want to go to school in the middle of the city and I just felt like Penn State was the best place as far as everything being so close together, the classes, where they eat, everything like that's real close.

Tyrell also feels very comfortable with the Nittany Lion coaching staff. "They're really good coaches. My recruiting coach, Coach Bradley, ever since I met him I've really liked him. He's been a real great guy. And Coach Vanderlinden, he really knows what he's talking about. He was the head coach down at Maryland. If you ever had a head coaching job, you really have to know what you're talking about. I think that's the third practice I've been to and I just like the way he coaches. They play a fair game, so I think with hard work, I could play early out there."

Tyrell Sales had 30 offers come his way this year, including offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pitt, Virginia Tech and Virgina. Sales had 100 tackles and 7 sacks as a junior. He also finished fourth in the PIAA Class AAA State Championships in the discus throw during his junior year. Butler was such a versatile track and field athlete that he was a state qualifier in the discus, javelin, and shot put. Tyrell had 96 tackles, 11 for a loss, four sacks, caused four fumbles and had two interceptions in 2003.

Sales was on numerous pre season lists of top players in the nation, including a national #73 player ranking at all positions on the Prep Star Dream Team 100 and a Bill Hodge National Top 150 ranking, but nagging injuries hampered his senior campaign just enough to drop him down on some of the lists. Still, noted Pittsburgh Prep Football authority Wyndell Williams rated Sales the #8 prospect overall in the WPIAL to start the fall season, ahead of other such well known prospects as Pitt commit Darrell Revis and Ohio State commits Devon Lyons and Rory Nicol. Tyrell ended the year ranked as The Insiders #37 Big10 region prospect. Tyrell finished the year nationally rated as The Insiders #16 LB.

Analysis - What can you say when Penn State seriously targets four nationally rated LB's, Dan Connor, Dontey Brown, Tyrell Sales, and Brian Toal, and then lands three of them. When you can land guys this talented, grading becomes very easy. Grade A+.

Safeties

Spencer Ridenhour, White Plains, NY (White Plains) - Spencer Ridenhour came into the Penn State Nike combine in April at 6-1 and 212lbs. He then proceeded to rip off a 4.47 forty, 4.23 shuttle and a 34.4 inch vertical jump. After basically dominating the other safety prospects at that Nike event, Greg Biggins and his staff at Student Sports promptly placed Ridenhour on the Student Sports Nike Football Training Camp All American Squad. He was the only pure safety in a group of five defensive backs given such an honor. In essence, after viewing the best of the best from around the country, the guys at Student Sports felt Spencer Ridenhour was the very best safety prospect they saw from all the Nike Clinics around the country. I was at that Nike combine and I can tell you, Spencer Ridenhour has that look. That "Wow, who the heck is that guy" look.

Spencer Ridenhour was recruited to Penn State by Coach Brian Norwood and he committed to Penn State the day after that Nike event. Spencer spoke about what he hopes to do at Penn State, "I guess I want to play defense because I like to hit. Everybody wants to be a running back and there are so many good running backs that there are not enough d backs. I just want to perfect being a dback and do it well," said Spencer, who expects to play strong safety at Penn State.

During his recruiting process, Spencer only visited Maryland besides Penn State, but after his stellar Nike Camp, he drew interest and offers from Michigan State, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin and the aforementioned Terps. Why did Spencer decide on Penn State so early in the process? "For one, academics--academics is always at the top. They have great academics. Just the overall program too. The tradition is so felt out there, the players are great, the coach, everyone is close. You could tell everyone is excited to be playing for Joe Paterno. There are just so many opportunities at Penn State,"

Spencer Ridenhour played both ways at White Plains. On offense, he scored an amazing 54 TD's in his high school career, but he will play defense at Penn State. In addition to earning the Student Sports Nike Training Camp All American recognition, Spencer was named a consensus first team all state defensive back in New York State this past fall.

Adam DiMichele, McKees Rocks, PA (Sto-Rox HS) - Adam DiMichele is a pretty phenomenal sportsman. DiMichele is actually a history making multi talented athlete. The Post-Gazette started picking a Fabulous 22 in 1980, and he is the first athlete to make the Fabulous 22, the Fabulous 5 in basketball and the all-area team in baseball. Adam is actually even a little better than that. Adam is a first team small school all state pitcher who can throw it 95 miles per hour and a first team small school all state basketball player who led Sto Rox to a state championship game last winter.

In football, Adam finished his senior season with 2,706 yards and 36 td's. He broke the all-time western Pa passing record and finished 259 yards away from becoming only the fourth QB in state history to reach 7,000 yards. He also added 8 rushing touchdowns will gaining over 600 yards on about 70 carries.

"God has given him tremendous ability in all sports," Sto-Rox basketball coach Bill Minear said. "He also has that competitive fire where he hates to lose in anything. I think other guys feed off that. Maybe by now most people are convinced Adam DiMichele is a rare athlete. He has been a starter in football, basketball and baseball at Sto-Rox since his freshman year and was the Post-Gazette co-Male Athlete of the Year for 2002-03.

Adam had scholarship offers to play QB at several Division 1-AA schools, but major colleges have been leary of his slight 6 foot and one-half inch height. Because his heart was set on playing major college football, when Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley offered the 6-1 180lbs QB/Safety prospect a chance to play in the secondary for the Nittany Lions, Adam did not hesitate before making the commitment. Adam is the Associated Press Pennsylvania Class A Player of the Year.

Kevin Suhey, State College, PA (State College) - Kevin, like DiMichele, played both QB and Safety in high school. Kevin had 280 career completions and 3,442 career passing yards while completing 62% of his pass attempts. A fourth generation Nittany Lion, Kevin Suhey will greyshirt before becoming a member of the Feb. 2005 signing class.

Analysis - Penn State probably needed one or two safeties in this class. With the addition of Ridenhour and DiMichele, they landed two. Kevin Suhey will become a member of the next class. Ridenhour alone probably gives you an A in this class. The guy is a serious cut above the normal type of athlete you see even in, say, a Big33 environment. Yes, he's that kind of impact athlete. Considering DiMichele's prodigious will and competitive fire, if he can run half as well as it appears he might be able to run, then we have another good football player on our hands. Grade A.

Overall Analysis - Penn State actually did a tremendous job considering the uphill battle from the Chad Henne fiasco and the less than stellar 3-9 football season. For the staff to pull this together the way they did is nothing short of sensational in my view. If they work this hard on the next class and classes beyond that, they should return to their perennial perch somewhere in the top ten of the elite college football programs. Due to the shortages at WR and CB I can't say they hit a grand slam here, but they did so very well at many spots that you have to figure the program received a well needed injection of high end talent. Overall the class is a big success, and given the fact we have a lot of high end WR and CB talent in the upcoming class, I'm pretty happy with how this one shaped out.

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