The defensive tackle spots were already a critical need for this recruiting class, but that need became even greater following Ed Johnson's expulsion for violating the university's Code of Conduct in early June. Johnson will miss the 2005 season and is not guaranteed to be reinstated by Joe Paterno.
Johnson would have been a senior starter in 2006 under normal circumstances. Whether he returns or not, it's important for the Nittany Lion coaches to find prospects that can contribute immediately.
Ollie Ogbu (6-3, 320, 4.96, Milford Prep, New Berlin, NY)
Ollie Ogbu is a name few recruitniks knew prior to his verbal commitment to Penn State on May 13. The stout defensive tackle played his high school football at St. Joseph-by-the-Sea HS in Staten Island, New York, before transferring to Milford Prep this January to concentrate on improving his academic situation.
Ogbu is a raw talent who combines incredible strength with excellent positional speed. St. Joseph-by-the-Sea head coach Greg Manos summed up his former star's abilities in a recent interview with Scout's Bob Lichtenfels, saying "He's a 319-pound kid that can run a legit 4.8, he can power-clean 365 pounds, he can get 12 reps of 405 pounds on the bench. He just did 465 pounds in a bench competition here recently. But I'll tell you what, he was the fastest kid on my team. He played fullback in our Double-Wing."
Ogbu rushed for 446 yards on 73 carries in 2004, a solid 6.1 yards per carry average, and seven touchdowns. Safeties coach Brian Norwood was one of the first college coaches to discover Ogbu and built a strong relationship with him over the past two years. The comfort level Ogbu felt with the Penn State coaches led him to choose the Nittany Lions over the likes of Michigan State, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia.
Ogbu will have a chance to hone his football skills at Milford this season before enrolling at Penn State next January.
Jason Kates (6-3, 320, 5.0, Bishop McDevitt HS, Harrisburg, PA)
LeSean McCoy isn't the only Bishop McDevitt Crusader causing college coaches to flock to Harrisburg this year. Jason Kates is also garnering plenty of interest and is one of Penn State's top defensive tackle targets.
As a junior, Kates made 50 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and six sacks on his way to first-team all-conference and all-district and second-team all-state honors. Kates is a load in the middle of the Bishop McDevitt defense and moves well for his size. In order to land Kates, the Nittany Lion coaches will have to fend off nearly 25 other schools for his signature.
The biggest threat is Notre Dame, which has put on the full court press in an attempt to get an early commitment from Kates. New Irish head coach Charlie Weis has gotten personally involved in Kates' recruitment and has impressed Kates with his Super Bowl resume.
Penn State's ace in the hole is Larry Johnson, who is both the regional recruiter for the Harrisburg area and Kates' future position coach should he choose Penn State. Like most prospects recruited by Coach Johnson, Kates raves about Johnson and enjoys talking with him because they often discuss subjects completely unrelated to football.
Larry Johnson shows prospects that he cares about them as a person, not just as a football player, and that message resonates with the prospects' parents as well. Kates attended two Penn State Junior Days this spring and was impressed with the campus and coaching staff each visit.
Penn State fans won't have to wait too long to find out whether Kates will be suiting up for the Nittany Lions in 2006 because he would like to make his decision prior to the 2005 football season.
Tom McEowen (6-4, 280, 5.1, Neshaminy HS, Neshaminy, PA)
Tom McEowen established himself as one of the top defensive tackle prospects in Pennsylvania following a junior season that saw him rack up 89 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, five sacks, and two forced fumbles. Those numbers earned him 1st team All-League recognition along with Courier-Times Golden 1st team and Southeastern PA Suburban One League Golden 11 Junior honors.
McEowen received a scholarship offer from Penn State shortly after attending a Junior Day in early April. Since that time, his stock has skyrocketed, and he now claims more than 20 offers. Penn State is one of six schools that stand out to McEowen along with Georgia, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia.
He recently attended another Penn State Junior Day with former teammate and incoming Penn State freshman Kevin Kelly and enjoyed meeting the current Nittany Lion players and coaches. McEowen is being recruited by Larry Johnson and expects to make his college decision by early September.
Reggie Odom (6-2, 295, 5.1, Deland HS, Deland, FL)
Reggie Odom represents Penn State's renewed commitment to recruiting talent-rich Florida. Prior to Mike McQueary being named recruiting coordinator, the program appeared reluctant to try and steal the Sunshine State's best away from the Big Three. That has all changed now, and Penn State is going head-to-head with the Florida powers for a number of prospects, including Odom, one of the state's best defensive tackles.
Odom was an all-county selection after recording 50 tackles, eight sacks, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries in 2004. He is a disruptive force on the field and commands a double-team on every play. Off the field, Odom fits the Penn State student-athlete mold perfectly with a GPA over 3.0.
The Nittany Lions offered Odom a scholarship in late April and Mike McQueary paid a visit to Deland during the Spring Evaluation Period. Penn State is one of nearly 20 schools to offer Odom, but it's the schools that haven't offered yet which may determine the outcome of this recruiting battle. Florida, Florida State and Miami are all recruiting Odom, but none have offered. Odom expects to receive an offer from all three later this summer and is very interested in those schools.
In a recent interview with CanesTime.com's Mike Bakas, Odom discussed the factors he will consider in making a decision, saying "Academics, tradition, and especially the coaching staffs are what will be important to me. The coaches who are recruiting me are very important since that's who I'll be playing for over the next few years of my life."
Phillip Taylor (6-4, 340, 5.5, Gwynn Park HS, Brandywine, MD)
There's big, and then there's Phillip Taylor. The 340-pound Taylor is next to impossible to move off of the line of scrimmage and does an excellent job of occupying blockers in the middle of the Gwynn Park defense to allow others to make the tackle.
Taylor registered 30 tackles as a junior including two sacks despite facing a constant double-team as a junior. He bench presses 415 pounds and is surprisingly quick for a player that large, which means he could play on either side of the line in college. Taylor's preference is to play defensive tackle, but he would also make a formidable offensive guard prospect.
Taylor has attended the Penn State Football Camp for the past two summers and will attend again this summer. He also participated in the Penn State Nike Camp this spring and therefore has a good feel for the University Park campus setting.
Larry Johnson is in charge of recruiting Taylor, and he visited Gwynn Park during the Spring Evaluation Period and called Taylor as well. Taylor has more than 20 scholarship offers and is wide open at the moment, although he consistently lists Penn State as one of the schools strongly under consideration. That's no surprise when Coach Johnson is involved.