The Lion's Lounge (Offense) - December edition

PSU would love to sign another quality group. Who are the coaches zeroing in on? Which bluechips have we offered?

With December here already and the Nittany Lions preparing for their Capitol One Bowl game, attention now turns to recruiting, especially those all important official visits.  Historically, a Penn State official visit consists of the recruit rooming with a current player (usually an underclassman), touring the athletic and academic facilities, meeting with academic support staff/professor in their prospective major, and a face to face with Joe Pa and the coaching staff.  The official visit show last year must have been particularly good as Penn State closed out very well with a high percentage of their targets.  

This year, a good number of high importance targets have already scheduled their official visits to Penn State.  Once the state playoff races are complete, we'll be able to better gleam an idea of when some of the big names will visit.  Penn State's class will be very small this season so the number of kids visiting will be equally small.  As of press time, Penn State appears to be in great shape with a handful of players and in good shape with a handful more.  This month's Lion's Lounge includes designations that will give an indication of where Penn State stands with each individual prospect.

* * * * * - Penn State verbal commitment!
* * * *      - Penn State leads or co-leads.
* * *           - Penn State will get a definite official visit.
* *                - Penn State may get an official visit.
*                     - Penn State is not in the picture.
*                    - Penn State has not currently offered.

1. Quarterback:  (3) Zack Mills (Jr.), Michael Robinson (So.), Chris Ganter (So.)

It's all but official, Penn State will not take a quarterback with this class.  Some may argue that the coaching staff could be leaving themselves to thin in case of potential injury, especially with Robinson utilized in a slash role.  That's a very valid argument.  Realistically though, it shows how committed Penn State is to running a spread offense--one which showcases an athletic quarterback who can both pass and run.  It has been mentioned before that the Lions are already all over current Wilson HS (West Lawn, Pa.) junior Chad Henne.  Rumor has it, Chad's interest in the Lions began as very lukewarm, but now he seems to be warming up to Happy Valley.  He has attended at least four home games that I am aware of.  A early verbal would be a fantastic way to pique the interest of some skill players, but don't expect this one to easy, especially with Miami, Georgia, and others involved.  There is a possibility Penn State could take two signal callers, ala Zac Wasserman and Millsy, but that will be something which will evolve over time.

* Chris Leak - Florida (10-18), Texas (11-8), Florida State (11-15), Iowa (12-6); Notre Dame, and Tennessee
* Kevin McCabe - Committed to Virginia
* Andre Woodsen - Committed to Kentucky
* Marcus Stone - Committed to North Carolina State

2. Running back:  TBs (4) - Michael Gasparato (Jr.), Pete Gilmore (Jr.), Tim Shaw (So.), Donnie Johnson (Fr.);
FBs (5) - Ricky Upton (5Sr.), Paul Jefferson (Sr.), Sean McHugh (Sr.),  BranDon Snow (Fr.), Chris Wilson (Fr.)

My father has been all over me, asking me who will be the tailback for Penn State next year.  He wants to know who will be the next Larry Johnson.  Well, up until this season, the only significant Larry Johnson was LJ, Sr., our defensive line coach.  Larry had shown flashes of his toughness, ,feistiness and grit during the dark Saturdays of '00 and '01, but not enough to make anybody predict he would rumble for 2000+ yards, 8+ yards per carry, and a possible Heisman Trophy.  Simply speaking, you never know who is going to step up and produce.

On paper, our tailback situation looks quite solid for years to come.  Gasparato showed toughness during his runs and ability to spread the defense with his pass catching skills.  Tim Shaw, one of only three true freshman to see playing time, looks like a bruising back with ample speed (he was nearly always the first man down on kickoff coverage).  Rumor has it, LJ took Donnie Johnson under his wing this season and the pupil has responded nicely.  On film, DJ looked like the best combination of size, speed, and wiggle that the Lions will have returning.  We all know how good our two current commits are, but don't ever rely on a true freshman to come right in and challenge--anything they give your team should be a bonus.  It appears that tailback recruiting has been completed.

While of tailback may not be proven next season, fullback holds a wealth of experience.  Paul Jefferson and Sean McHugh have both played well this season, dishing out their fair share of punishment to Big Ten defenders.  It would not be shocking to see one redshirt next season in order to stagger their graduation, ensuring a veteran will be manning the position in 2004.  Ricky Upton doesn't have his peers blocking ability, but he may be the most dangerous runner of the bunch.  BranDon Snow will have 200, 000+ eyes on him next season when he steps on the field for the first time.  His highlight tape may have been the most impressive collection of highlight plays ever put together for a high school fullback.  He could easily move to tailback or linebacker.  Chris Wilson remains the unknown of the freshman because a back injury has left him unable to practice.  He's been rumored to have been practicing (pre injury) at tailback, fullback, and middle linebacker.

RB Jason Evans - Kennesaw, Ga.  (Harrison HS)  6-1, 190, 4.4
* * * * *
The best term used to describe Jason, both on and off the playing field, seems to be "well rounded."  Why?  First and foremost, he boasts an excellent academic background.  Secondly, he can ball a bit too.  His playoff game versus North Gwinnett tells the story.  Jason rushed for 221 yards, recorded 10 tackles, and broke up 8 pass attempts.  That's a whole season for some!  We can all go back to sleeping well at, as Jason looks to be firmly committed to the Nittany Lions.  For those of you who worry that Jason decided to visit elsewhere because of Austin Scott--seriously, don't be ridiculous, this kid can play with anybody, any time of day.  We landed ourselves a real gem.
official visits - Penn State (9-13), and Oklahoma (11-1)

RB Austin Scott - Allentown, Pa.  (Parkland HS)  6-1, 205, 4.4
* * * * *
What else can be said about Austin Scott's play this season besides "simply amazing."  Austin has carried Parkland HS to within one win of the Pennsylvania Quad-A championship game.  Oh yeah, he also shattered the state single season rushing record formerly held by current Indianapolis Colt running back James Mungro.  Those who follow and report on national recruiting level have began to sit up and take notice of Austin's accomplishments too.  Everybody's favorite guru, Tom Lemming, has said that Austin will be in his Top 100 when it is revised this month.  The own Jamie Newberg just recently reviewed tape of Austin and liked him enough to re-rank him as the #16 running back in the nation.  No matter where Austin ranks in the end, Penn State will be getting a terrific running back and honors or awards don't mean anything to Big Ten defenders, many of whom will be trailing him from behind for years to come.
official visits - not set (has been to just about every home game)

* Barrington Edwards - Georgia (11-30), USC (12-6), Michigan State (12-13), Maryland (12-20); and Miami, Fl.
* Kregg Lumpkin - Committed to Georgia
* Tashard Choice - Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida and Vanderbilt
* Tyrone Moss - Virginia Tech (10-16), Michigan State (10-26), North Carolina (11-1) and Miami, Fl. (1-24); and Oklahoma
* Jerome Jackson - Michigan State (11-5), Purdue (9-27), Minnesota (11-8), and Michigan (11-1)
* Lance Ball - Committed to Maryland
* Andre Callender - Boston College (12-6), Wake Forest (12-13); North Carolina, Michigan State, and Wake Forest
* Brian Dennison - Florida State, Louisiana State, and Georgia
* Darrell Blackman - Iowa (11-22), North Carolina State (12-6), Maryland (12-13); Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Virginia
* Albert Young - Wisconsin (12-6 or 12-13), Rutgers (12-13), Iowa (1-17); Boston College, and Virginia
* Kenni Burns - Missouri (12-13); Ball State, Boston College, and Northern Illinois

3. Athlete:
When reading the names below, it will jump out at you that all of these players could be outstanding at a number of positions at the collegiate level.  Since they have this versatility on the gridiron, they have been placed in this special category.  In recent years, Penn State has been criticized for not having enough speed at the skill positions.  Following the script of teams like Florida State and Miami, Penn State will look to sign high end athletes and teach them how to play a position.  As the saying goes, "Either you have speed or your chasing it from behind!"

Rodney Kinlaw  - Goose Creek, Sc.  (Stratford HS)  5-10, 185, 4.3
* *
Not much has changed with Rodney from previous months.  Courtney Brown's nephew consistently lists the Nittany Lions but still maintains Virginia Tech is recruiting him the hardest of all the schools on his list.  Rodney wants a shot at running back but many see him as a corner.  As a tailback, he's reminiscent of a slighter Eric McCoo.  He has great agility and hips to be a corner on the next level.  He will probably visit Penn State officially, but has not done so unofficially this season.
official visits - Virginia Tech, Clemson, South Carolina, North Carolina State, and Penn State

Eric McCollum - Camden, Sc.  (Camden HS)  6-0, 180, 4.5
* *
Eric continues to maintain that Penn State offered him a 'ship during this year's summer camp.  However the quarterback has not received that scholarship in writing yet.  It does not appear that Eric will visit Penn State because it is to far from home.  He currently favors in-state South Carolina, who have not offered.
official visits - Clemson, South Carolina, Iowa, and Penn State

Ervin Battle-Baldwin - Richmond, Va.  (Huguenot HS)  6-2, 225, 4.6
* *
Despite reports that Penn State has offered Ervin, Huguenot HS coach Richard McFee set the record straight stating the Nits have not stepped forward, yet.  Ervin, who plays both linebacker and fullback, could fill a number of positions for any team who signs him.  Maryland and Michigan comprise his remaining two schools with the Terps being listed as his new favorite.
official visits - Michigan, Maryland, Penn State

* Tommy Zbikowski - Notre Dame (12-6), Iowa (12-13), Nebraska (12-20), and Arizona State (1-18)
* Michael Bush - Louisville, Ohio State, Auburn, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Wake Forest, and Kentucky
* Travis Thomas - Purdue (10-28), Notre Dame (11-1), Northwestern (11-15), Iowa (11-22), and Boston College (12-6)
* Chase Anastasio - Notre Dame (12-6), Stanford (12-13); Virginia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Penn State

4. Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: WRs (7) - Tony Johnson (Sr.), Ryan Scott (Jr.), Gerald Smith (Jr.), Ernie Terrell (So.), Kinta Palmer (So.), Terrance Phillips (So.), Josh Hannum (Fr.); TEs (3) - Casey Williams (Sr.), Andrew Richardson (So.), Isaac Smolko (So.)

With Bryant Johnson leaving the Nittany Lions for the National Football League, Penn State will need to develop a #2 wide receiver, opposite Tony Johnson, in the off-season.  Both Gerald Smith and Ernie Terrell played well in late season blowouts against Indiana and Michigan State.  Reports out of practice have Josh Hannum really playing well.  Kinta Palmer played well last spring but in limited playing time, he dropped a couple of opportunities to impress the coaching staff.  The wide receiver core is young again next season.  The depth depends on how many kids dedicate themselves in the off season.  With Coach Carter in charge of this group, motivation should not be a problem.

The Tight end position began as the biggest question mark on the offense.  After R.J. Luke transferred to Western Illinois, no one expected Casey Williams to do anything but falter.  How could a 5'11'' kid prosper in the Big Ten?  Well "Mighty Casey" showed he could play with the big boys, proving key in many scoring drives.  Walk-on, Mike Lukac, served as Casey's back-up, playing well when Williams was injured in the middle of the season.  Neither of the redshirt freshman showed enough during garbage time to draw any kind of negative or positive conclusion about them.

Terrell Golden - Norfolk, Va.  (Lake Taylor HS)  6-4, 205, 4.4
* * * *
Terrell will be on campus next weekend for his official visit.   Right now the Nittany Lions and the Hoakies should be considered the front runners for his services.  His size and speed are comparable to Bryant Johnson.  He did not unofficially visit Penn State this season, but the staff offered him at summer camp so he has been on campus before.  It would not be a surprise if he made his decision between State and Tech after he visits the latter.
official visits - Penn State (12-6), Virginia Tech (12-13); Maryland, NC State, and Tennessee

Preston Brown - Camden, Nj.  (Woodrow Wilson HS)  6-4, 215, 4.55
* * *
Preston brings with him the ability to play multiple positions on the football field.  The Nittany Lions appear to be recruiting him as a hybrid wide receiver-tight end, someone who can stretch the field with his speed but also run block.  Chances are he will end up in the Big Ten, but he likes Tulane because of their high powered spread offense.  
official visits - Tulane (12-6), Iowa (12-13), Penn State (1-10), Purdue (1-17), and Indiana (1-23)

Dorien Bryant - Swedesboro, Nj.  (Kingsway HS)  5-10, 170, 4.3
* * *
Dorien has been connected with Boston College for quite a while now, but from hearing him speak, he seems completely open.  A fine young man, Dorien offers any school that signs him in February, both a speedy wideout and a quality person.  He has unofficially visited Penn State for both the Nebraska and Michigan State games, returning home with noting but nice things to say about the Nittany Lion program.  It does not appear that he will verbal before he gets to visit Penn State in the middle of January.  Do not be absolutely shocked to see Penn State make a huge push for him and nab him late in the game.  He knows a lot about Penn State and commitments from a couple of Jersey kids could certainly help our chances with him.
official visits - Purdue (11-8), Boston College (12-6), Tennessee (12-13), and Penn State (1-17)

* Seth Fogarty - Committed to Connecticut
* Deyon Williams - Committed to Virginia
* Derrick Harper - South Carolina (11-9), Pittsburgh (12-6), Maryland (1-3), and Boston College
* Jesse Holley - Michigan State (10-18), Virginia (11-22), Ucla, Maryland, Notre Dame, and North Carolina
* Chinendum Nduwke - Committed to Notre Dame
* Joseph "T.J." Gartrell - Committed to Georgia
* Andrew Weatherly - Iowa (12-13); Maryland, Boston College, and Virginia

* Vernon Davis - Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, Michigan, and Pittsburgh
* Louis Irizarry - Ohio State (12-6), Florida (12-13), and Miami (12-20)
* Greg Olsen - Notre Dame (12-6), Tennessee (12-13), Michigan (1-10), Miami, Fl., Florida State, and Syracuse
* John Kinzer - Committed to Virginia Tech
* Nick Stefanow - Committed to Duke

5. Offensive Line:  (13) Damone Jones (5Sr.), David Costlow (5Sr.), Chris McKelvy (Sr.), Nick Marmo (Jr.), Scott Davis (Jr.), Tyler Reed (So.), John Wilson (So.), Tommy McHugh (So.), E.Z. Smith (So.), Mark Farris (Fr.), Robert Price (Fr.), Chris Auletta (tFr.), Lee Lispi (tFr.)

At this point in the off season speculating on a potential line for next season presents nothing but frustration.  The one obvious hurdle that must be addressed centers around the fact that the Nittany Lions will lose 4 starters from a line that played extremely well this season.  Without seniors Gus Felder, Tyler Lenda, Joe Iorio, and Matt Schmidt, Larry Johnson would not have had his record breaking affair of '02 and he will be the first person to tell you that.

Both E.Z. Smith and Chris McKelvy should get first crack at two starting positions on the line, as both shared time at the guard spot opposite Lenda.  McKelvy, who must again keep his weight down in the off season, began his career as a tackle, but guard seems like a much more natural position for the senior.  Just a sophomore, Smith could move from guard to center, allowing his much ballyhooed classmate Tyler Reed, the opportunity to show his potential at guard.  From there things

Joel Holler - Lancaster, Pa.  (McCaskey HS)  6-6, 335, 5.4
* * *
Joel has played things very close to the this season.  With Borgoyn's unfortunate injury, the need for a big time tackle becomes even greater in this class.  Earlier this year, around the Nike Camp, Joel would not have been a name mentioned as a kid who could see immediate playing time as a true freshman.  However, after seeing him at the Northwestern game, Joel certainly appeared to be a kid who made a conscious effort to slim down.  He was by far the biggest and most agile lineman at Nike, an honor even more impressive because he was not very well conditioned and carried unneeded extra girth.  At 310-315 pounds, Joel could be down right nasty as a pass blocker because of his great footwork and down right dangerous as a run blocker because of his shear size.  The Ohio State folks think they may have the inside shot, but that is noting more than wishful thinking on their part.
official visits - Ohio State (11-23), Virginia Tech (11-30), Penn State (12-6) , and Miami, Fl. (12-13)

Jeff Zuttah - Princeton, Nj.  (The Hun School)  6-5, 280, 5.0
* * *
Like Joel Holler, Jeff Zuttah has the potential to come right in and contribute to any major college program lucky enough to ink him.  He visited State College officially for the Michigan State game last weekend, coming home with great things to see about the experience.  Penn State has always been very high on his list and he has been high on the staff's list.  Because he will enroll early to the college he chooses, Jeff could be a key piece of our recruiting class.  Currently, the only team that appears to be dangerous to the Nittany Lions could be the Golden Eagles.
official visits - Florida State (11-16), Penn State (11-23), Boston College (11-29), Notre Dame (12-6), and Michigan (12-13)

Dan Mazan - Carteret, Nj.  (Carteret HS)  6-4, 305, 5.0
* * *
If there is one target whose outlook on Penn State completely changed after the Nebraska game, it was Dan Mazan.  Although Dan mentioned Penn State before that game, he has stated that they were not a serious contender for his services.  Now they may be the clear cut leader.  Dan brings agility to any offensive line he joins because he can play both guard and center.  Don't be surprised if he doesn't decide something before he gets to Omaha on the 17th.
official visits - Boston College (12-6), Penn State (12-13), Nebraska (1-17); Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Ohio State

Brandon Nixon - Pottstown, Pa.  (Pottstown HS)  6-7, 310, 5.2
* * *
Like Joel Holler, Brandon Nixon remains an important target because his position is tackle.  An outstanding athlete, Brandon also participates in track for Pottstown HS.  In a recent interview with Steve Curry, Brandon listed his favorite as Maryland slightly over Penn State because of their quality criminal justice major.  An official visit to Penn State will be the key to a kid like Brandon, so that he can see the academic side of campus life.  He will also get the opportunity to meet with his future professors.  The fact that his visit to Penn State comes after his visit to Maryland should be considered a plus to the Nittany Lions because they get the last crack at him.
official visits - NC State (12-6), Maryland (12-13), Penn State (1-10); and Georgia Tech

Martin O'Donnell - Downer's Grove, Il.  (South HS)  6-5, 290, 5.2
* *
Nothing has changed with Martin since last months Lion's Lounge .  Penn State remains a team in contention for an official visit, though nothing has been scheduled yet.
official visits - Illinois (12-6), Nebraska (12-13), Stanford (1-10); Iowa, Oregon, and Penn State

Mike Jones - Oak Lawn, Il.  (H.S. Richards HS)  6-5, 307, 5.1
* *
Mike has already scheduled three of his five visits, although the Wolverines are assured of a visit.  Hope remains that the Nittany Lions could secure that last spot, but it seems to be fading quickly.  Don't hold your breathe.
official visits - Notre Dame (12-6), Iowa (12-13), Tennessee (1-17), Michigan (???); Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Penn State, Boston College and Wisconsin

Dan Pribula - Strongsville, Oh.  (Strongsville HS)  6-6, 315, 5.2
* *
Dan sports offers from Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Pittsburgh, but the Nittany Lions have not yet offered.  He has stated that Penn State will  definitelybe receiving one of his five visits.  If the Nittany Lions offered, all indications are they would vault to the top of Dan's list.
official visits - Syracuse (12-6); Ohio State, Notre Dame, Stanford, Northwestern, and Penn State

Bart Miller - Elk Grove Village, Il.  (Elk Grove HS)  6-5, 295, 5.1
* *
Bart has been receiving correspondence from the Nittany Lions for a couple months, but the Lions have not offered.  At this point the interest in Bart seems to be secondary compared to the targets Penn State has offered.  The only schools that have offered scholarships are Air Force and Navy
official visits - Duke (12-6); Air Force, Navy, Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, and Bowling Green

* Jorrie Adams - Texas, Miami, Florida, Texas A&M, LSU, and Oklahoma
* John Sullivan - Notre Dame, Boston College, Michigan, Miami, Fl., and North Carolina
* John Rochford - Committed to Miami, Fl.
* Jake Long - Committed to Michigan
* Ian Cunningham-Yates - Nebraska (11-29), Notre Dame (12-6), Virginia (12-13); and Georgia Tech
* James Ryan - Committed to Illinois
*  Brock Choate - Committed to Maryland

Overall Analysis:
The coaching staff has been hamstrung with a very small number of scholarships to award this season.  If it does not seem like Penn State is involved with a large number of targets--well they're not.  However, the staff has done a great job of  targeting offensive players of need.  With two tailbacks in the fold, offensive line becomes the biggest spot to fill, especially with true freshman Brian Borgoyn being forced to give up football after sustaining a neck injury.

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 .  Also, this material is premium and cannot be discussed on any other message board.

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