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Low Impact: In the end, questions about Paterno's future had little impact on the Class of 2009. Check it out in this free preview of our 64-page special issue.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The order deadline to receive the next issue of Fight On State The Magazine, which is our special Penn State Recruiting Yearbook, is Thursday (Feb. 19) at midnight.

This 64-page, color, glossy special issue is dedicated to the Nittany Lions' Class of 2009. It includes full-page bios and photos of all 27 members of the class, as well as feature stories, analysis, a look around the Big Ten, projections for the Class of 2010 and much more.

The good news is, a subscription to FOS The Magazine comes FREE with an Annual Total Access Pass to So if you are not a subscriber or hold a monthly pass, subscribe or upgrade to a annual pass by midnight Thursday and you will receive this keepsake issue FREE.

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Magazine only subscriptions are also available.

In the meantime, for a taste of what you will find in the magazine, check out this story by new FOS contributor Gordon Jones.

HEADLINE: Low Impact
SUBHEAD: Surprisingly, questions about Joe Paterno's future were not a real factor when most members of Penn State's Class of 2009 made their college decisions
BYLINE: Gordon Jones

A funny thing happened on the way to Penn State's recruiting meltdown: Nothing.

There had been some expectation that the Nittany Lions would be adversely affected by the uncertainty surrounding Joe Paterno's contract and health, that they would lose prospects who feared he would not be around to coach them.

Certainly the recruits were conscious of both matters, but they were hardly deterred.

Listen, first, to Malcolm Willis, the safety from Lackey High in Indian Head, Md.: “It was a little concern, because he's a legendary coach, and I'd love to play for him. But I was also looking for a good school, not just a good coach. It made a little bit of a difference -- not too much. About 15 or 20 percent.”

To others, it was even less.

“It didn't really concern me,” said Curtis Drake, the Philadelphia West Catholic quarterback expected to make the switch to wide receiver.

“It wasn't affecting me, any kind of way,” said Devon Smith, the speedy, pint-sized wideout from Waldorf, Md., Westlake.

Willis gave Penn State his verbal commitment in April 2008, Drake in June, Smith in September. They all stuck to them. In fact, Willis went one step further, talking his high school teammate, cornerback Darrell Givens, into joining him in Happy Valley, after Givens had initially committed to Ohio State.

All this, despite the fact that Paterno suffered a hip injury that consigned him to the press box the last seven games of the season. And despite the fact that the 82-year-old head coach might be without a contract at year's end.

Paterno underwent surgery on his hip shortly after the season, and signed a three-year contract extension in December.

If there was any waffling on the part of the recruits in the meantime, it was minimal. Glenn Carson, the linebacker from South Regional High in Manahawkin, N.J., was one of the few to admit to even a moment's hesitation, and even that seemed related more to Paterno's age than to his health or contract.

As Carson said, “It was kind of in the back of my mind, how old Paterno is, and how much longer he could possibly be there.”

He also said his uncle, Dan Higgins, “was kind of protective of me for that reason.”

Higgins, head coach at Piscataway, N.J., High, was recruited in the early '80s by North Carolina State -- by an assistant coach named Pete Carroll, specifically, who worked under Monte Kiffin.

Higgins' older brother Tom had been a star linebacker for the Wolfpack in the mid-'70s, before spending a year with the Buffalo Bills, then several in the Canadian Football League, as a player and coach; he is now the CFL's director of officiating.

The younger Higgins had high hopes as well. But Kiffin, Carroll and the rest of the staff were shown the door in 1982, and Higgins' playing career, Carson said, “went the worst way.”

As a result, Carson added, “He made sure I understood the situation [at Penn State].”

Carson, who also made official visits to Notre Dame and Boston College, verbally committed to Penn State after visiting campus the weekend of Sept. 25-27, a weekend highlighted by a victory over Illinois. (Smith was also there that weekend, and also committed soon after.)

Carson's thinking appears to have been twofold. For one thing, he said, “I really believe [Paterno is] still with it. He can still coach the team very well.”

For another, Carson said, “[The program is] so established and has so strong a base, they will get the best coach if they have to replace Paterno. The program won't fall off at all. I'm still feeling good about Paterno being there. Even if he can't, I'm confident about Penn State getting the right coach there.”

Carson said he seldom asked linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, the assistant who recruited him, about the possibility of Paterno retiring, because “there's only so much you can ask about that topic.”

“He'll be there,” Carson said, “as long as he possibly can. It's not in his hands. It's in God's hands.”

But it appears some of the other recruits were reassured about Paterno's future, either by assistants or the head man himself.

Willis, for instance, said that when he spoke with Paterno after committing to PSU in the spring of 2008, the head coach “was giving certain hints about coming back [in 2009].”

“He was saying he was feeling good,” Willis said. “He was giving hints that he was looking forward to coaching me and Darrell in 2009.”

And after Paterno suffered his hip injury during the season, assistants Larry Johnson and Kermit Buggs visited Willis and let him know that it was “a little problem ... but it's looking good for a comeback next season.”

Drake received similar reassurances when he spoke with Paterno over the phone after committing in June of '08.

“He said he was willing to be there for at least the time I'd be there,” Drake said. “[Paterno's future] really didn't concern me. It sounded like he was excited about the class coming in. Even if he did leave, I feel like nothing would change.”

PSU's approach appears to have had the desired effect.

“I felt strong the whole way through [the process],” Willis said.

“Once I committed, it was like an agreement,” Smith said. “It was like shaking somebody's hand.”

Carson, for his part, said he “wanted to do the process right. I didn't want to play any coaches [from different schools]. I was very honest, very fair.”

But once he was in, he was all in.

“Commitment day was like signing day, in my mind,” he said. “Once I committed, I didn't have any doubts.”


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