Mike McQueary Q&A Part 3: The Offer

In the final installment of our exclusive and unprecedented interview series, Penn State’s recruiting coordinator talks about recruits recruiting recruits and how the Nittany Lion staff decides when to offer scholarships to prospects.

ESPNews was not on hand to cover the event when State College High quarterback Mike McQueary committed to Penn State in the winter of 1993. Come to think of it, ESPNews simply wasn’t — the network launched in 1996, the first of McQueary’s two years as a letterman for the Nittany Lions.

In fact, no media outlets were there when McQueary made his choice. Though he led State High to the PIAA semifinals in 1992, he was just slightly overshadowed by another Pennsylvania quarterback — Berwick’s Ron Powlus, who landed at Notre Dame (no Heisman jokes, please).

And while McQueary lived within a few minutes of Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions did not make him a scholarship offer until extremely late in the recruiting process.

That stood in contrast to what happened with Derrick Williams this year. The All-Everything receiver from Maryland was offered by dozens of colleges by his junior season in high school. When it came time to pick a program, ESPNews came to his school, Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt, to telecast the event to the world.

Like McQueary back in 1993, Williams chose Penn State, picking the Lions over Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. And like McQueary now — the big redhead is in his first season as the Nittany Lions’ recruiting coordinator — Williams began aggressively selling Joe Paterno’s program.

“Looking at the schools, there were four things I was looking for,” Williams said. “Honesty, loyalty, a person who was trustworthy and just a man that had character. Joe Paterno had all that.”

Those are a just few of the messages McQueary has tried to get across to prospects in his new post. Having joined the program as a lightly recruited athlete, having played for Paterno and graduated from the school, and now having pursued blue-chip recruits himself, he believes he has all bases covered.

That diverse background allows him to give the entire staff input on when Penn State should offer a prospect — at a junior day, at PSU’s summer camp, during the season, just after the season, right before signing day or via one of Paterno’s patented pitches during Sunday brunch on the final day of an official on-campus visit.

Read on for the conclusion of our three-part interview series with McQueary:

MB: I’m sure you realize several players who have committed to the program are aggressively “recruiting” other prospects. Has that always happened?

MM: No. In 1992-93, I was one of the last kids to commit to Penn State. I think we took 17 kids that year and I was number 16 or 17. I hadn’t talked to one single recruit. I didn’t know anybody in my class. Jim Nelson, Joe Jurevicius, Kim Herring, Aaron Collins, Ahmad Collins. I didn’t know any of those guys until after signing day.

No one called me. That’s because I was a putz. I got the one scholarship a year that they give and say, we feel bad for you, come to Penn State. I think in recent years, the last three, four, five years, kids have said, “Hey let’s try to get some momentum going here. I’ll call a kid, I’ll go on TV and say come to Penn State because it’s an awesome place.”

MB: Everyone also reads about everyone on the Internet. Has that been a hassle or bonus?

MM: I think it’s both. I think you can get information on the Internet. You’ve got to take the information with a grain of salt. You can’t get too down, you can’t get too high with whatever you see on the Internet. I’m not sure that the intentions of all of the Internet folks are right. I think we have to remember that college football is an extracurricular activity that is centered around a young person’s education. And I think in the new millennium sometimes money and things that get tied up, we forget that. They’re 17- and 18-year-old kids. So I think maybe that’s a part of the puzzle with the whole Internet thing.

MB: Has it changed the way you communicate with players? I’m guessing you use e-mail and instant messaging along with phone calls, letters and faxes.

MM: All of the above. That’s legal by the NCAA now. And the NCAA stays up with technology and fax machines and IMs and text messaging, and they have stipulations and rules for all of those things. What does an IM stipulate? Is that ruled as a phone call or is that ruled as an e-mail? Is it ruled as correspondence like a written letter we do? So you have to know all of those rules and where all of them fit in.

So you correspond with a kid, you communicate with a kid however you can. Some people send out mass letters that are program-generated that I’m not sure how much of a difference that it makes to a kid. You can fax a kid, you can IM him, you can text message him, the whole nine yards.

MB: Does Joe buy into any of that?

MM: His ears are always open and he’s always willing to say, what can we do better? What can we do differently with this or that? He’s open to it, no doubt about that.

MB: When you contact kids, can you better sell Penn State because you played there?

MM: I think so. I believe in it, that’s for sure. I grew in my four and a half years here. I was not a super talented kid. I was not some star coming out of high school. I had maybe five or six offers. But at the end of my four and a half years here, by the time I was 22, I had received a degree and I had been in some groups on campus that were away from football and I was perfectly happy with my football career on the field.

MB: How do you know when to offer a kid?

MM: That’s something we struggle with constantly. And that’s important for us. We don’t send out blanket offers. We’re not gonna go out, say there is this unbelievable back, and send out an offer on Sept. 1 of his junior year. No. We’re not going to do that at Penn State. A lot of schools are.

We want to make sure we do the right thing by the kid. So we’re going to get to know him first of all a little bit. We know he’s a good enough player, he’s a great player. We want to make sure we know him. We want to make sure we can do the right things academically for him. It may be a junior day in February when we say, he wants to study this, we’ve got that, so he sits down with [academic advisor] Todd Kulka, he sits down with [offensive coordinator] Galen Hall. He’s comfortable, we’re comfortable, he’s a great player, let’s go get him.

We’re not going to blanket-offer 80 kids on Sept. 1 of their junior year. That’s, when you look at, when you take away all of the extravagant firecrackers and everything in college football, you’re not doing a service to the kid. At Penn State, and it basically comes from Joe, on ground one he wants to do what’s right for the kid and he doesn’t think sending a blanket offer without knowing him, without knowing his background or knowing what we can or can’t do for him here at Penn State, he doesn’t think that’s right. Let’s get to know him. We know he’s a great player, we know he’d be great on the field here, let’s make sure we’re not rushing into something he can’t handle. Do what’s right for him.

MB: Have there been situations where a great player was interested in Penn State and the program was not comfortable with him?

MM: Sure. And sometimes kids don’t understand when you are a little late [offering], when you are after some schools.

And there’s some anecdotal stories to that. It’s like, if you’re a young guy and you ask Halle Berry to go out with you 10 times and she said no, but the 11th time you asked she said yes, would you turn her down? I myself wasn’t offered until the Sunday before signing day my senior year. But when I put it up against West Virginia and Rutgers and Pitt and Wake Forest, I said hmmm, let me see. This is a pretty good choice. But we struggle with that all the time. That’s tough to get around.

MB: Last question: This approach of promoting stability, doing the right thing, getting on board at a place where something is happening, how do you get kids to buy into it?

MM: I don’t think you do. I think once they’re here they see, oh man, it works. I don’t find us going out of the way to say, let me shove this down your throat and make sure you know it works. After a day here they’re saying, man this all makes sense. [The players who have committed] are all saying, whoa, there’s something special here. This is different.

For more on Mike McQueary and Penn State football recruiting, check out the debut issue of Fight On State the magazine — The Recruiting Spectacular — which will be published in late February/early March.

Part 1: The Penn State Philosophy

Part 2: The On-Campus Visit

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