Coach Speak : Rick Pennypacker

Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker was an offensive lineman for West Virginia in the 1970s. His most heralded recruit, Terrell Chestnut, committed to the rival Pitt Panthers on Thursday. Though his star player committed to what he's always known as the rival school, it was a day he could not have been happier for Chestnut.

"He was really torn between Pitt, Rutgers and West Virginia, Pennypacker said. "I played at West Virginia. I don't know if he loved (West Virginia) because of me, but I wasn't going to sway him one way or the other. As a former West Virginia player, if I was going to sway him anywhere, it sure wasn't going to be to Pitt. I let him make his own decision."

That is already one of the fun things as this coach watches his all-state athlete go to Pitt. The two have already started the usual trash-talking that is more common between relatives and friends in this rivalry, than it is between player and coach.

"I told everybody I'll root for him in every game, except for one game," Pennypacker said. "When they play West Virginia, I'll root for Terrell, but I played in four of those games, and I know what they're like. Terrell laughed at that.

"I think he made great decision. As a coach, I told Terrell I want what's best for him. As a fan, on the other side, he knows that."

Initially, the plan was for Chestnut to commit during the season, possibly after the season. As the summer wore on, Pennypacker noticed that his star player wasn't quite himself.

"I just think that the pressure, we saw the last month, it started really bothering him," Pennypacker said. "He was always good about calling coaches back. The last six weeks, he was not calling people back. We saw a change in him."

Then, they noticed a change in his approach in the weight room.

"He's a hard worker in the weight room," Pennypacker said. "He wasn't his jovial self. He wanted to get it over with."

Things picked up when Pennypacker was on vacation last week. One of his assistants called him, and said Chestnut was ready to go.

"It was down to three or four schools," Pennypacker said. "It was down to Pitt, Rutgers, West Virginia and Penn State. Out of those four, he was really torn between Pitt, Rutgers and West Virginia."

What made it even tougher was that the coaching staffs from all the schools involved were recruiting Chestnut equally as hard. No staff was outworking the other. Pennypacker was impressed with how Pitt recruited his star player, but felt they didn't do anything different or special from what the other schools did.

"I think that all the coaches that recruited him did a tremendous job," Pennypacker said. "Pitt didn't do anything greater. The one thing, was for them to be at our school, as many times as the NCAA regulations said they could, they were here. Brian Angelichio was in contact with me almost all the time, ‘How‘s Relly? How‘s Relly?' I think all the coaches did a tremendous job."

There is one thing that Pennypacker feels the entire Pitt staff does real well.

"Pitt does a tremendous job selling their school," Pennypacker said. "The other thing, my coaching staff said this to me, is that Dave Wannstedt makes you feel at home. He's a down-to-earth type of guy. My coaches all notice that. When you get a guy who has the rep he has--coaching with the Cowboys, with the Bears--we met him, we sat in his office for 15 to 20 minutes, and it was like talking to someone off the street. I know him and Terrell really hit it off. I really can't say they did one thing. I can't say they out-recruited him. They did tremendous job selling this kid."

Even on the visits to all the schools, Chestnut came away impressed with every one. Pennypacker sensed one slight thing that was different in his response, after a visit to Pittsburgh.

"When he went out for a visit (to Pitt), to meet all the coaches players, he felt really at home," Pennypacker said. "And, the funny thing, every place he visited, that's where he wanted to go. Penn State, 'It was unreal.' West Virginia, 'I love it.' Then, he went to Pitt. We're coming home on the turnpike, and I said, ‘What do you think?' He said, ‘I love it.'"

So even though Chestnut committed to the rival school of Pennypacker's alma mater, the coach could not be happier--both for Pitt and for Chestnut. Though it's his own player, he couldn't say enough about the type of person Pitt is getting. Chestnut has scored over 50 touchdowns in his career, and has picked off 15 passes. After talking about a few things he does in the community, it's easy to see how he can be so multi-talented.

"Every school's coach brags about their players," Pennypacker said. "Coach Wannstedt, after meeting him, I told him, 'This kid is as polished, and the highest-character kid you'll meet.' He will be captain of any team he goes to in college. He's a team player. It's gratifying there are kids out there like that, with all the things you hear in college football.

"Playing for me for three years, he won every award there is--all-state, all-area, none of that goes to his head. He does Read Across Americ, he's involved in students against drug and alcohol, he's involved in peer mediation for Montgomery County. There's some type of minority program that picked him to be on its committee. Once a month, he goes to meet with our county seat, and he visits with a bunch of 70 to 80 year-olds. He gives so much back to the community."

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