Paterno Works His Magic

Not so long ago, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said two key recruits could help the Nittany Lions become title contenders again. To the surprise of everyone, the legend went and out nabbed both players in question.

In what was an unprecedented move for the legendary coach, Penn State’s Joe Paterno used the occasion of his Thursday night radio call-in show last October to say the Nittany Lions were only a couple of recruits away from returning to national championship contention.

And while NCAA rules prevented him from mentioning those players by name, it didn’t take a degree in deductive reasoning to determine who they were.

One was Justin King from Gateway High in Monroeville, Pa., a speedy, versatile two-way star who earned’s coveted five-star rating. The other was Derrick Williams, a fleet receiver from Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, Md., who was also honored as a five-star recruit.

King picked the Nittany Lions in mid-November. Williams followed suit Wednesday. Despite suffering through four losing seasons in the past five years, Paterno, who turned 78 a few days ago, obviously has not lost his power of persuasion.

“Everyone said to stick a fork in JoePa,” said Jamie Newberg, a national recruiting analyst at “But last year he had a strong class, with [linebacker] Dan Connor and quarterback Anthony Morelli. Now they’re getting some people to work in around Morelli.

“What does Penn State need?” Newberg continued. “They need athletes on the edge with speed and athletic ability. They’ve got that now with Justin King and Derrick Williams.”

Both players intend to graduate from high school early and enroll at Penn State for the spring semester. Connor took a similar approach last year and finished second on the team in tackles (85) while winning freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News.

King could play offense or defense for the Lions next season. He was recruited by PSU defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who handles the secondary. But Williams projects on offense, an area where State desperately needs help. The Lions finished last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and total offense last season. They’ve had one first-team All-Big Ten wideout — Bryant Johnson in 2002 — in the past decade.

“Derrick Williams is simply smooth,” said Miller Safrit, an Eastern recruiting analyst for “While running routes, carrying the ball or breaking on the ball in coverage, Williams makes the game look easy while he is actually the fastest player on the field. His complete understanding of the game is only surpassed by his potential.”

Added Newberg: “They need athletes with speed, and that’s what Derrick brings. He wants to make an Adrian Peterson-type impact on the program.”

Peterson was the Oklahoma rookie running back who rushed for 1,843 yards during the regular season while leading the Sooners to the national championship game and being named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

But before worrying about making that kind of impact at Beaver Stadium next season, Williams — following King’s lead — has some other work to which he must tend. The Lions now have 15 commitments for the class that will sign Feb. 2, and the latest wants to see that number grow.

“I encourage every other recruit to come to Penn State with me while we take this team to a national championship,” he said.

“This is huge for Penn State,” Newberg added. “They’re gonna have a lot of momentum going into January, so this is big. Because Derrick Williams is widely regarded as one of the top players in the country, he’ll have an impact on a couple other guys.”

And as Joe Paterno would be quick to say, a couple of guys can make a dramatic impact on a program.

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