So what's the question on the mind of every Penn State fan this summer? Easy enough. How will the Nittany Lions fare this year. This query has been the subject of many a message board post from here to the PSUPlaybook. Three years ago, the answer would have been a no-brainer--10-1 or 9-2, no doubt about it. Well unfortunately times have changed. The laws of nature dictate that everything fluxuates. Tides come in and go out. Seasons change. Hell, even the now mighty Yankees were pitiful during the 80's and the once powerful Cowboys have almost nearly played themselves out of "America's team" status.
However, Joe Paterno has never experienced such an anemic stretch during his legendary run in Happy Valley. At numerous points during the last two seasons, you could hear fans muttering things out of pure frustration like, "the offense sucks!," "just make the [expletive] tackle!," or "up the middle again on third and 20!". Every part that makes the whole of Penn State football has lacked the consistency of past teams. We can debate for hours and hours as to the reasons why our team has turned from a National Champion contender, into a middle of the pack, scratching for a bowl bid-team. I'm not going to delve into those issues because they are just to time consuming and I would not be writing anything you haven't heard a thousand times. The 2002 and 2003 seasons however, have the potential to be JoePa's final masterpieces as he rides off into the sunset. His Sistine chapel, if you will.
Call me a wide-eyed optimist (I was always partial to Pollyanna), but I feel this squad has enough young talent to launch our Nittany Lions back into the National picture. The key word in the previous sentence is young. It has been well documented that we will have between 14 and 16 scholarships to hand out next season. Well the class that will sign on the dotted line in 2004, may only be 11 strong! That means our roster, comprised mostly of upperclassman, will have the oppotunity to gel. Even more important, the coaching staff has now been together for three straight years, recruiting and working on the same page. Hang around while I examine the five players, key to any success the Nittany Lions enjoy, and the five players, who will breakout this season.
1. Sophomore quarterback Zack Mills: The southpaw who became our "savior" last season, is now the THE MAN. Statistically, he had an average year, but we all know he has special potential. I could go on forever, but it's all been said before.
2. Senior runningback Larry Johnson: LJ certainly has a fire in his eye and a hunger in his belly. I think he can be a productive back carrying 20-25 times a game, no Ki-Jana or Curtis though. What makes LJ so crucial is his emotion--he needs to channel it, into becoming a leader, rather than a hothead (see the Illinois game).
3. The entire offensive-line: Memo to the OLine--STAY HEALTHY!! P.S.--BLOCK SOMEBODY!! This line can go two deep at each position. For both Zack and LJ to succeed, the line must give them time and holes. Plain and simple--the game is won in the trenches and we haven't had a consistent line in years.
4. Middle linebacker Sam Ruhe and outside linebacker Derek Wake: Meet Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. Sammy, converted from DE, must learn the position on the fly. He did well in the Blue White game, but the regular season in the Big Ten is a whole 'nother ball game. We cannot have Anthony Davis and B.J. Askew running wild during the Michigan and Wisconsin road games, or we will be a ton of trouble. Derek, after losing a year, must come back to form and fullfill his ascension as the "next Lavar". I, for one, cannot wait to see him come off the corner and kill a quarterback.
5. Senior cornerback Bryan Scott: BScott has all the potential in the world. Now he must also be like a coach on the field for our young defensive backs. We also all know B will be lined up against the best wide receiver the other team has, so it's crucial for him to be a stopper.
There are a number of freshman and redshirt freshman who should establish themselves as valuable addition to the squad. In my estimation, the most important are:
1. Redshirt Freshman Andrew Richardson: With R.J. Luke's departure, we need a go target at the tight end position. Andrew won't stretch the field, but he has the potential to be a possession guy/blocker.
2. True freshman safety Calvin Lowry: This kid is ready to play now. With a spring practice under his belt, he could step right in for Yaacov and never give up the spot. JoePa will hate putting him at punt returner because of his inexperience, but he may be the best we've had since McDuffie back there.
3. Young corners Gio Vendemia and Alan Zemaitis: If these guys are opposite BScott, they will face a firing squad each and every week. Zemaitis is a great athlete. Vendemia put on some good weight in the off-season. Both have the potential to be solid corners.
4. Stud lineman Tyler Reed: Ya hungry? Tyler will make you some pancakes. He looked great in the Blue White Game, hopefully that serves as a springboard for him to play some meaningful minutes this season.
5. Back-up tailback Pete Gilmore: LJ will get tired eventually. Pete seems the likely candidate to pick up the slack. He had the potential to get you yards while LJ gets a blow.
Let's now take a quick peek at the recruiting scene. Nothing dramatic has occured since the last Lion's Lounge in July. We remain stuck on one verbal, but August should reap a couple more.
Andre Woodson - Radcliff, Ky. (North Hardin HS) 6-4.5, 220, 4.94........#11 overall QB
Didn't have a great Nike Camp, but he still has the potential to have a fantastic college career. Recently named the Nittany Lions in his top three again. But does he have an offer? Stay tuned.....
Eric McCollum - Camden, Sc. (Camden HS) 6-1, 180, 4.5........Claims a written Nittany Lion offer. I tend to suspect it is as an athlete though, especially with the internet rumors of a junior verbal commitment.
Jason Evans - Kennesaw, Ga. (Harrison HS) 6-1.5, 190, 4.4........#14 overall RB
Jason still lists Penn State, Stanford, and Texas A&M as tied. His decision could come down at any minute.
Brian Dennison - Jacksonville, Fl. (Mandarin HS) 5-10, 194, 4.4.......#16 overall RB
Dennison is as evasive during interviews as he is on the field. Penn State remains listed along with Miami, Florida State, etc.
Barrington Edwards - Bowie, Md. (Bowie HS) 6-0, 211, 4.48........#2 overall RB
I had all but written off Barrington as a goner. In a recent interview, he still listed Penn State. But we do seem to be fading faster than the pack behind Lance Armstrong, cycling up a hill.
Travis Thomas - Washington, Pa. (Washington HS) 6-1, 196, 4.4........#36 overall RB
Like Edwards, Thomas seemed to quit listing Penn State. Then miraculously, like Lazarus rising from his grave, Travis has again become interested in the Lions. In fact he will be visiting the campus soon. We may be looking at him as a safety.
Andre Callender - West Orange, Nj. (Seton Hall Prep) 6-0, 185, 4.4........#29 overall RB
Penn State looks like they are in very good shape for Andre, remaining strong in his top five favorites. For as good as a running back Andre is, he could also be an outstanding corner at the D1 level.
Terrell Golden - Norfolk, Va. (Lake Taylor HS) 6-4, 205, 4.46........NR @ WR (just added)
Terrell has exploded through the rankings in Virginia. He also exploded at Penn State camp, nabbing an offer from the coaches before he left. The Nittany Lions appear in fantastic shape.
Vernon Davis - Washington, Dc. (Dunbar HS) 6-4, 225, 4.5........#16 overall TE
Don't look now but the kid mentioned Penn State! Seems enamored/torn between Maryland and Tennessee, but who knows, we may get an official visit. A big year offensively could really help with Vernon.
Trey Koziol - Hinsdale, Il. (Central HS) 6-5, 235, 4.7........Trey still favors the Nittany Lions over Northwestern. He should find out by the end of the month, if Penn State will be able to tender him an offer.
Joel Holler - Lancaster, Pa. (McCaskey HS) 6-6, 330, 5.4........# 9 overall OL
Big Joel will take his official visits. The Nittany Lions still look like the team to beat, after his return from a Midwestern university tour.
Dan Mazan - Carteret, Nj. (Carteret HS) 6-4, 280, 4.9........#26 overall OL
Dan likes the Big Ten. Penn State plays in the Big Ten. Ergo, Dan would fit wonderfully at Penn State! :) Great qualifications for an offensive guard.
Jeff Zuttah - Princeton, Nj. (The Hun School) 6-4.5, 280, 4.95........NR @ OLPlayed very well in the Governer's Bowl (New York/New Jersey All-Star Game). Stated he would like to take trips, but I think the Nittany Lions will win out.
John Rochford - Linwood, Nj. (Regional HS) 6-3, 290, 5.2........#40 overall OLStill seems like a Miami/Penn State battle. Could also be a defensive lineman.
Brock Choate - Williamsport, Pa. (Loyalsock HS) 6-5, 268, 5.2........#165 overall OL
Don't let Brock's ranking throw you, he has better offers than many of the 164 offensive lineman ahead of him. If the Nittany Lions don't offer soon, he'll be a Terp. The staff is waiting on two offensive lineman, probably Mazan and Zuttah.
Raymond Edwards - Cincinnati, Oh. (Woodward HS) 6-6, 235, 4.6........#27 overall DE
Pray that Shawn Crable verbals to Ohio State. Raymond lists Penn State as his second choice behind tOsu. Although we have tons of young talent at D-End, one more can never hurt.
Victor Abiamiri - Baltimore, Md. (Gilman HS) 6-5, 250, 4.6........#17 overall DE
Every time I read about this kid, Courtney Brown instantly comes to mind. Smart, big, and athletic makes for a dangerous defensive end. Maryland, Stanford, and Notre Dame seem to be in the lead.
John Shaw - Spring Grove, Pa. (Spring Grove HS) 6-4, 278, 4.87........#33 overall DT
Still smiling about his verbal! But Penn State doesn't seem to be mentioned consistently by any highly rated D-Tackles. Shaw was rated number one on State's list though.
Wesley Jefferson - Brandywine, Md. (Gwynn Park HS) 6-2, 231, 4.74........# 3 overall LBAllan Wallace reported Penn State leads the pack for Wesley's signature. We'll see. Signing with the Lions would send Maryland fans into a spin.
Vince Hall - Chesapeake, Va. (Western Branch HS) 6-1, 238, 4.6........#15 overall LB
Vince currently lists Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Virginia along with Penn State.
Joe Kedra - Cherry Hills, Nj. (Camden Catholic HS) 6-4, 223, 4.7........#45 overall LB
Joe listed North Carolina as his current leader over Penn State, but when all is said and done, I cannot see Joe signing with the Heels. Nabbing his quarterback, Nick Cangelosi, does not help the cause, but Joe will not commit to anyone before taking official visits.
Paul Posluszny - Aliquippa, Pa. (Hopewell HS) 6-2, 208, 4.62........#14 overall LB
Paul may be this season's Mark Farris. For a while, the Nittany Lions did not focus hard on Paul, while Pitt did. But after a phone conversation with Tom Bradley, Penn State became a much bigger player for Paul. He will soon visit Penn State and a good visit could save him from four years of Oakland.
Note: Jim Presley, a linebacker who I liked from Michigan, verballed to the Wolverines late last week. Penn State was his second choice.
Cornerback has become even more difficult than quarterback, to get a lock on as to how many and who Penn State may be targeting.
Ashton Youboty - Spring, Tx. (Klein HS) 6-1, 185, 4.4........#22 overall CB
Could be the closest to pulling the trigger. He received an offer from each school he camped at, including the 'ship strapped trio of Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State.
Rodney Kinlaw - Goose Creek, Sc. (Stratford HS) 5-10, 190, 4.4........NR @ RB
Courtney's nephew seems to have his choices narrowed down to Penn State, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, and Clemson. How could you go against the family?
Ira Guilford - Hoboken, Nj. (Hoboken HS) 5-11, 185, 4.4........listed as a safety, but with his size and speed, cornerback seems like an obvious fit. Ohio State still leads, but have they offered? They seem to be sitting pretty with Donte Whitner and they have less 'ships to give out then us. Ira plays for Rashard Casey's alma mater.
Chase Anastascio - Fairfax, Va. (Robinson Secondary HS) 6-2, 190, 4.5........Chase has an offer from Psu, but it may be as a cornerback. It's not fair comparing Chase to former Nittany Lion Scott Sanden--who left school for personal reasons. This battle may come down to Notre Dame and Penn State.
Ambrose Wooden - Baltimore, Md. (Gilman HS) 6-1, 180, 4.4........NR @ CB
Things are quiet on the Amrbose front. He continues to list a large group of teams, with the Nittany Lions included.
Finally, please keep in mind, if you have any burning questions or information that you feel will be relevant to any future columns, please feel free to email me at Jayst12@yahoo.com.