The Great Recruiting Debate

In our annual feature, we take a closer look at the areas that are fueling the Nittany Lion football recruiting engine — examining the regions where Penn State is dominating and addressing those spots where the program has some work to do.

It comes up every year after letter-of-intent day; the issue is a "grass-is-always-greener" debate over whether Penn State should protect its "homeland," primarily focusing on talent within a 300-mile radius of State College, or take a wider approach to recruiting by expanding its efforts.

It seems that no matter what the class makeup is, there are always concerns that arise because Penn State "failed" to fulfill either side of the debate. The first article I ever wrote for actually dove into this topic and was titled "The Great Recruiting Debate." Since then, it has become an annual review of the current recruiting class.

The Numbers

The biggest factor hindering Penn State (or any other school) from dominating a region is the NCAA mandated 85-man scholarship limit. Gone are the days where a program could lock up an entire region's talent by offering an unlimited number of scholarships. This approach was what led to the historical landscape of college football; one where a few programs around various regions of the country dominated the sport over several decades. Prior to scholarship limits Southern California owned the West Coast, Texas owned its home state, Nebraska owned the western portion of the central Midwest, Notre Dame owned the eastern portion, Miami owned Florida, Oklahoma owned a large piece of the Southwest, Alabama owned a major section of the deep South and Penn State owned the mid-Atlantic region.

Today, thanks to scholarship limits, the lay of college football's former landscape is all but gone. Annual recruiting classes can only include a maximum of 25 players, so coaches have to be very diligent in their choices of who to extend offers to.

Penn State, like most other schools, overlays its needs with the talent it sees as a fit. Given the fact that in years past the Nittany Lions have had several recruiting "hotbeds" in and around Lion Country, the recent sentiment within the program is that it rarely needs to look across the nation for a prospect given the talent in regional states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware.

The one recent exception to this has been Ohio. In years past Penn State regularly pulled in impressive talent from the Buckeye State. Names like Ki-Jana Carter, Curtis Enis and Joe Jurevicius are only a few of the legendary Ohio natives who have impacted PSU. However, since Jim Tressel took the helm in Columbus, the Buckeyes have maintained a firm grasp on their in-state talent — for the most part. That seemingly shifted a bit this year, with two major recruits from Ohio in PSU's Class of 2008; Michael Zordich and Brandon Beachum.

This local recruiting approach has seemingly shifted in recent years, from pulling in prospects from "outside" states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Michigan and California, with recent classes, to shifting back to a strong focus on the states surrounding Pennsylvania, not to mention the Keystone State itself. This year PSU went back to a more national approach, reaching out as far as Texas (D'Anton Lynn), Louisiana (Mike Mauti) and Michigan (Deon'tae Pannell) to pull in key prospects.

Protecting the Homeland

Many fans feel Pennsylvania should be priority No. 1 for the Lions. After all, the school's mission is to educate and serve the citizens of the Keystone State. Of these fans who believe in this approach, many feel that the talent in Pennsylvania and surrounding states is more than adequate to feed the majority of PSU's recruiting needs inside and out. However, this has proven to be a cyclical approach depending on the talent Pennsylvania and the handful of states around it can produce.

Let's just look at the last three recruiting classes. The past two Penn State recruiting classes have had 59 scholarship recruits. Of those 59 prospects, 35 have been from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware or New York. That's 59 percent of the total, down one percent from last year's assessment.

So the question becomes, is attracting over half of Penn State's talent from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware protecting the homeland? Many would say yes, while others would say no.

Some significant Keystone State prospects have headed elsewhere in recent years. Brendan Beal went to Florida, Christian Wilson went to UNC, A.J. Alexander went to Florida State, Derrick Morgan went to Georgia Tech, Toney Clemons went to Michigan and LeSean McCoy went to Pitt. But were any of those players an actual priority for PSU and would it have been a smart move to sacrifice an out-of-state player like D'Anton Lynn or A.J. Price to get a few more native players from the commonwealth? Again, some would say yes and others would disagree.

Looking Across Borders

In the past three classes the Nittany Lions have received 41 percent of their players from outside the "traditional" recruiting region. The staff has looked primarily to the immediate south and west to attract players to Happy Valley.

In those three most recent classes the Lions have picked up players from:

Maryland: 7
Virginia: 4
Michigan: 3
Ohio: 3
North Carolina: 2
California: 1
Illinois: 1
Texas: 1
Louisiana: 1

In other words, the Lions have taken away players from in-state programs like Ohio State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Texas Tech, Rutgers, Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State, among others. So the recruiting process cuts both ways; where Penn State loses some "home grown" talent, as does every other school in the nation.

The Bottom Line

No matter where a program's talent is attracted from, this debate will continue to swirl annually. In recent history, it would appear, conscious or not, that Penn State has struck a consistent balance between attracting "half" of its talent from "Lion Country" and attracting the other "half" from outside the immediate region.

The question is what is the ideal balance between these two approaches? This is something fans will continue to debate and can only be answered by the staff's recruiting results. The major question to be answered is whether PSU can use its recent successes in regions like Texas and Ohio as a stepping stone to achieve what its has in locales like Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas in recent years.


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