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February 6, 2014
Column: Hunting down an important class
As an observer, watching Penn State's National Signing Day unfold on Wednesday was a bit like a drawn out version of HGTV's 'House Hunters'.
The show, a 30-minute exercise in formulaic melodrama, typically asks a young couple to pick from three houses, only to produce an excruciating setup in which negotiations with a bank or real estate agent inevitably present a moment of truth.
Will the bank approve the loan!? Will they get the house!?
The answer - always - is yes.
In fact, one of the series' secrets is that candidates for the show must have already purchased their desired house to even be eligible for filming. The other property walk-throughs might have once been checked out or considered by the couple, but by the time the show is produced, it's all acting on par with a recreation in a bad documentary.
In other words, get your popcorn out and enjoy the show.
The experience for the coaches trying to secure the signed faxes for Penn State's recruiting Class of 2014 is somewhat different, though. Having secured 20 verbal commitments and another five early-enrollees already taking classes at Penn State, the Nittany Lions' new coaching staff under head coach James Franklin celebrated each compliance-confirmed signature with gusto.
According to Andy Frank, Penn State's new director of player personnel, that's just the way it goes.
"For us and for our personalities as coaches and as people in this business, there's not a calmness to it," he said. "We're always on edge that we've got to do everything we possibly can to make sure that we control what we can control, and that's convincing those kids that this is the right place for them. Until you get all those signatures in, you're not calm.
"We had kids come in today, you're missing one sheet of the fax and they sent everything except for one sheet, so you know they're trying to commit to you, and you're still not calm until you get that last piece."
On Wednesday morning, they got the house. Twenty times.
Getting there was a credit to a variety of factors, two of which seemed to be particularly important.
The first was the effort of former head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff to secure 16 verbal commitments that remained committed to Penn State despite his departure to the NFL's Houston Texans. The second, more notably, was the quick thinking and hard work of Penn State's new staff under Franklin to re-secure those commitments, so to speak, and then produce a crop of another nine commitments to round out the class.
Based on Franklin's statements from the program's inaugural "The Signature Event" held Wednesday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center, the first part wasn't especially complicated.
Of securing the commitment of incoming offensive lineman Noah Beh, Franklin said his own expectations were immediately unfounded. "He's passionate about being here. He was one of the guys that we called the first night after getting the job. I thought I was going to have to talk him into it and convince him about staying on board, but just like most of the guys in the recruiting class, they were so excited about being a part of Penn State. Most of these guys grew up their whole life wanting to be here."
Frank echoed Franklin's statements.
Asked whether or not they had to make many decisions about how much time to spend on the already-committed prospects versus the remaining uncommitted targets, Frank said some time needed to be allocated, but the university's selling points were a huge draw to keeping them committed.
"You get to see kids once a week, so you're going to try to see everybody that you're recruiting once a week, so fortunately, as far as time spent, you're able to spend the time on them - phone calls and those types of things," he said. "You do have to allocate time a little bit to guys that were currently committed versus the guys that you're recruiting to now commit.
"I would say that we were fortunate because this is a great place, and so when those guys committed to Penn State, they had strong ties to Penn State along with the previous coaching staff. So we were probably in an advantage in that situation where you didn't have a lot of guys that were trying to look around."
Though Frank acknowledged that some competition would inevitably make a run at those already committed prospects, the combination of Penn State's draw and the confidence of the Nittany Lions' new coaching staff produced the desired results.
Said Frank, "Yeah, I think people probably tried to come in on them, but once they got a chance to meet our coaches, we're always going to feel pretty good. Once our coaches get to meet these kids, we're going to feel good about our chances."
And so Wednesday, a momentous opportunity to improve Penn State's chances at winning in the near and distant future, amounted to more or less of a formality, even if Penn State's newest coaches didn't have the luxury of getting in on the act.
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