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November 10, 2003

Penn State's problem is not recruiting

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There are many theories why Penn State has a 2-8 record at this point in the season.

One of the most popular theories is that Penn State's recruiting has fallen on hard times. That theory has taken on a life of its own since Penn State's collapse at the end of the 1999 season when the Nittany Lions lost consecutive games to Minnesota (24-23), Michigan (31-27) and Michigan State (35-28).

Writers at daily newspapers across the country continue promote the idea that Joe Paterno and his assistant coaches have lost their recruiting touch. The biggest complaint of those who promote this idea is that too many of Pennsylvania's elite players have headed to schools like Michigan, Ohio State and Virginia Tech.

Granted the Nittany Lions have lost the services of Marlin Jackson, Steve Breaston and Chad Henne to Michigan and All-American (AA) running back Kevin Jones selected Virginia Tech, but these types of losses have been going on at Penn State ever since Joe Paterno became Penn State's head coach in 1966.

Penn State has never had the provincial dominance of its recruiting effort in Pennsylvania, like Ohio State has in Ohio. One major reason is that Paterno doesn't have the media in his hip pocket like Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel have at Ohio State.

The only time Ohio State didn't have that advantage with the media was in the late 1990s when John Cooper lost favor with the Ohio sportswriters.

Even when Cooper was in the media's "doghouse" the bias towards Ohio State's football program never changed. But enough of that. This article isn't about the problems that exist between Paterno and the media.

Three perfect examples of my above analysis are Tony Dorsett's and Dan Marino's commitment to Pitt and Joe Montana's commitment to Notre Dame.

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s schools like Notre Dame, USC and Pitt have had tremendous recruiting success in Pennsylvania.

Also, don't forget about names like Joe Namath (Alabama), Raghib Ismail (Notre Dame) and Jon Ritchie (Stanford). I could continues this list for another six pages.

This lack of dominance in Pennsylvania with Penn State's recruiting effort never has existed to the extent some would make Penn State fans want to believe. There is no historical validity in this argument.

Now let's take this analysis to Penn State's Classes of 2003 and 2004. The Nittany Lions had two very different recruiting groups with the Classes of 2003 and 2004.

When August 1999 came and Penn State's Class of 2003 arrived on campus, it was probably one of the least nationally recognized of Penn State's recruiting classes in the decade of the 1990s.

It consisted of just 11 names, but it is not the disaster many depict it to have been. Some future Penn State greats like Bryant Johnson, Bryan Scott and Deryck Toles were part of the Class of 2003.

Plus contributors like Gino Capone, Damone Jones, Ricky Upton and Yaacov Yisrael arrived on campus in August 1999.

Actually, about 50 percent of Penn State's Class of 2003 have become big time contributors to the Nittany Lion program and for those who have followed recruiting closely like I have for the past 22 years that's about average for what is considered to be a solid recruiting class.

If one wants to talk about recruiting disappointments no one has to look any further than Penn State's Class of 2004. It was ranked by every recruiting service as one of the top 10 in the country. SuperPrep ranked Penn State's Class of 2004 the 4th best in the country. Tom Lemming placed Penn State at No. 8, Rivals.com No. 3, G&W Recruiting Report No. 5 and Bill Buchalter of the Orlando Sentinel had Penn State Class of 2004 No. 1.

One would have expected by these predictions that Penn State would have all the leaders it needed this season. On the first Wednesday in February 2000, all the recruiting services would not have predicted Penn State would be 2-8 on Nov. 10, 2003.

The logical question now is if Penn State's Class of 2004 was so highly ranked what went wrong?

There were 29 members to Penn State's Class of 2004, but not all of them reported to Penn State in August 2000.

Dan Acri, J.D. Benson, B.J. Evangelista, Pete Gilmore, Ellery Moore, Jesse Neumeyer, Scott Sanden, Adam Taliaferro and Zac Wasserman all had some type of problem at Penn State before the conclusion of their freshman year.

Acri, Benson, Evangelista and Moore were no longer at Penn State when the 2001 spring semester began in January 2001.

Moore never arrived on Penn State's campus. He just completed his senior year at Kentucky this fall. Acri and Benson had academic problems at Penn State and Evangelista was unhappy at Penn State even before the 2000 fall semester began.

Wasserman was unhappy being the No. 3 QB behind Matt Senneca and Zack Mills and over the next 10 months Neumeyer, Erik Noll and Scott Sanden were no longer part of the team.

Neumeyer had injury problems and Noll and Sanden left Penn State because of personal problems.

Then add to that the disappointing development of Tim Johnson, Nick Marmo, Chris McKelvy, Jason Robinson and Dave Kimball, plus the injuries to Jeremiah Davis, Scott Davis, Michael Gasparato, Gerald Smith, Adam Taliaferro and Wake, and it's easy to see this is a prescription for failure and disappointment.

Was this horrible recruiting on Penn State's part. If you consider the outcome, one would have to say yes.

But what aspect of the recruiting? There were 15 AAs in Penn State's Class of 2004.

There were high fives sent Penn State's way from newspapers across the country for Penn State's recruiting effort with its Class of 2004. Penn State football fans were on Cloud Nine.

Another collapse like just what happened at the end of the 1999 season was the farthest thing from any Penn State football fans' mind.

What has all of this taught Penn State fans and the media that closely follows Penn State football?

It appears nothing was learned. Penn State fans and the media that write about Paterno's program have ignored all this to talk about the easy excuse: recruiting.

There are many factors that can determine the final evaluation of a recruiting class over a five year period. Academics, injuries, personal problems and coaching can all have a major impact.

With Penn State's Class of 2004, all those factors turned out to be negative. It had nothing to do with Joe Paterno losing his recruiting touch. There wasn't abnormal amount of Pennsylvania's "elite" blue-chip prospects heading to places like Michigan, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Syracuse, Iowa, Tennessee and elsewhere.

I've heard this argument for the past 20 years. The facts of history don't support that thesis.

What Penn State fans need to do is stop looking for the easy answer for someone to blame for Penn State's 2-8 at this point in the 2003 season.

There are more serious problems with Penn State's football program right now.

(1) Why is there an unhappy situation presently on Penn State's coaching staff. Where is the chemistry?

(2) Why did Penn State's coaching staff never create an identity on offense or defense with this football team?

(3) Why have 16 players been moved to different positions since Penn State's first game against Temple (Aug. 31)?

(4) Where is the organization with any aspect of the program?

These are the situations Penn State fans should be most concerned about going into the game against Indiana on Saturday (Nov. 15).

Not recruiting! I've heard this bogus argument for the past five years.

It was the dominant theme of preseason 2002. What happened this past April?

I'll tell you: Six Penn State players (Jim Kennedy, Michael Haynes, Bryant Johnson, Larry Johnson, Anthony Adams and Bryan Scott) were taken among the first 58 draft selections in the NFL draft.

Come on, let's be analytical in our analysis. How did Penn State's defense collapse in the final three games in 1999?

I'm sure it wasn't Penn State's recruiting effort. Didn't Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington end up being taken No. 1 and No. 2 in the NFL draft in April, 2000?

What positions did they play at Penn State? It was defensive end and linebacker. One would think that defense with five future NFL players would not have let that happen.

Penn State fans the problem isn't recruiting!

Class of 2003
Gino Capone 6-2 232 LB Ashland North Schuykill, Pa.
Dave Costlow 6-4 255 OL/DL Lansdale North Penn, Pa.
Horace Dodd 6-2 205 RB Hamden, Conn.
Terrance Glover 5-11 230 Rb/DB Trenton Hamilton West, N.J.
Keith Jenkins 6-5 315 OL Chardon, Ohio
Bryant Johnson 6-3 205 WR Baltimore City College, Md.
Damone Jones 6-5 315 OL Philadelphia Central, Pa.
Bryan Scott 6-2 205 DB Buckingham Central Bucks East, Pa.
Deryck Toles 6-1 200 RB/DB Warren Harding, Ohio
Ricky Upton 6-0 230 RB Dandridge Jefferson County, Tenn.
Yaacov Yisrael 6-1 175 WR/DB Palatine, Ill.

Class of 2004
Dan Acri 6-4 242 DE Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt, Pa.
J.D. Benson 6-4 210 LB Lebanon, Pa.
John Bronson 6-4 245 DE Kent Kent Meridan, Wash.
T.C. Cosby 6-1 225 LB Owings Mills McDonough School, Md.
Jeremiah Davis 6-5 250 DE Annandale, Va.
Scott Davis 6-3 275 OL/DL Parkersburg, W.Va.
B.J. Evangelista 6-3 260 LB/DE Murraysville Franklin Regional, Pa.
Michael Gasparato 6-0 205 Ath. Columbia Dutch Fork, S.C.
Pete Gilmore 5-11 210 RB Reading, Pa.
Paul Jefferson 6-1 250 RB Wilkes-Barre GAR Memorial, Pa.
Tim Johnson 6-4 235 LB Morris Township Delbarton, N.J.
Tony Johnson 6-1 205 WR State College, Pa.
Dave Kimball 6-1 180 PK State College, Pa.
Nick Marmo 6-6 315 OL New Castle, Pa.
Sean McHugh 6-5 240 Ath. Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Chris McKelvy 6-3 205 QB Ijamsville Urbana, Md.
Jimi Mitchell 6-2 205 DB/LB Exeter Township, Pa.
Ellery Moore 6-2 275 DL Massillon Washington, Ohio
Jesse Neumyer 6-3 215 Ath. Mechanicsburg Cumberland Valley, Pa.
Erik Noll 6-5 292 DL Gaithersburg Watkins Mills, Md.
Jason Robinson 6-4 265 DL Swedesboro Kingsway Regional, N.J.
Sam Ruhe 6-5 245 DE Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, Ohio
Scott Sanden 5-11 190 DB Fairfax Robinson Secondary, Va.
Ryan Scott 6-3 193 WR Kent Kentwood, Wash.
Gerald Smith 5-11 180 DB Ellicott City Howard, Md.
Adam Taliaferro 5-11 187 DB Voorhees Eastern, N.J.
Derek Wake 6-3 232 LB Hyattsville DeMatha, Md.
Zac Wasserman 6-3 205 QB Westlake Village Westlake, Calif.


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