With scholarship reductions as part of the NCAA’s recent sanctions against Penn State, members of the team’s coaching staff said they know they are not close to the optimal situation when it comes to recruiting and roster numbers.
But how far away are they?
Penn State’s secondary coach, John Butler, used the word “very” six times in a row to elaborate on how distant the team is to having the perfect personnel right now and stressed the importance of recruiting the right players. Butler did so when he explained why the Nittany Lions chose not to redshirt freshman cornerbacks Da’Quan Davis and Jordan Lucas.
“If we were in a perfect scenario which we are very, very, very, very, very, very far from, [Davis] would probably be an ideal kid to redshirt,” Butler said. “Just because of his size, and we would like to put some more weight on him and just kind of season him a little bit. Even the same thing with Jordan Lucas, those are two kids that are going to be good players here at Penn State, but they’re going to be much better players in year five than year one.”
With Penn State having its lone idle Saturday of the season this weekend, many players are taking the opportunity to spend time in their hometowns. Bill O’Brien and some members of his coaching staff are also leaving Happy Valley — but they have business to tend to.
O’Brien and some assistants will be on the road this weekend selling the Penn State program, which is currently on a four-game winning streak.
“Winning obviously helps, kids can see that there’s a good product on the field right now and guys are playing hard,” O’Brien said. “It’s an interesting team to watch, because the kids really compete and they play extremely hard. We’ve got a lot of high-character kids, so I think when parents see all these kids interviewed after games or during the week, I think that’s a good thing for parents to see for future prospects.”
Nine players transferred from Penn State in the summer after the sanctions were initially issued, and a handful more have left the team, but have not landed at other schools. With all of the departures, Penn State is left with about 70 scholarship players on its current roster, according to Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Jeff Nelson.
The sanctions cut the Lions’ scholarship numbers from 85 to 75 for the 2013 season. The team is then reduced to 65 scholarships for the 2014 season.
Penn State is competing this season with a limited number of scholarship players, which O’Brien contributes to health and a core group of upperclassmen. The first-year coach said he doesn’t know what this year’s success ultimately means for the future.
“I’ve said all along, 65 scholarships is the rule that we’re going to play under and right now, we’re close to that,” O’Brien said. “Again, one of the reasons we’re competing is that we have, for the most part, stayed healthy and we haven’t had any major injuries. And that’s been a big deal, and we’ve got a really strong senior class. Every year, every team is going to be different.”
Butler, who also oversees the Lions’ special teams unit in addition to the defensive backs, said one of the key aspects coaches are looking for in recruits is versatility.
Many players on Penn State’s current team contribute to its defense or offense as well as its special teams and Butler cited Mike Hull, Jacob Fagnano, Mike Yancich and Curtis Dukes as examples.
“The biggest thing about the sanctions, is when we’re recruiting over the next four years, we got to make sure every kid we bring in, we can maximize his ability,” Butler said. “Meaning that as a coaching staff, we have to be able to get every single ounce of talent out of every single kid. There’s no room for error.”
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