The first week of January erased the certainty most players in Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class had felt for months: they’d be playing for Bill O’Brien next season.
They may have felt confident the coach who recruited them would stick around to coach them, but they couldn’t have been sure. O’Brien said he had conversations with multiple NFL teams, casting doubt on his future as the coach of Penn State.
Seven of his recruits are already former recruits, having enrolled early at Penn State this spring. Those coming out of high school are just a month away from signing a national letter of intent. If O’Brien had left, the next step for many could have been the first step all over again.
But O’Brien confirmed Monday he would coach Penn State in 2013. No recruits have decommitted, and O’Brien said he didn’t expect the NFL interest to rattle his incoming class.
“I know the discussions that I’ve had with our prospects...,” the coach said. “I’ve had very honest and open discussions in recruiting with all the families and prospects that we recruit, and there’s a lot of trust there.”
Enough trust that tight end Adam Breneman, defensive back Jordan Smith, defensive back Anthony Smith, running back Richy Anderson, junior-college quarterback Tyler Ferguson, and walk-on quarterbacks D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple are already on campus.
Breneman, a five-star tight end according to Scout.com, has been especially outspoken in his commitment to Penn State despite the NCAA’s sanctions. Now that he’s a true freshman on campus, however, Breneman will essentially be off the media grid for the next year because of team rules.
O’Brien, on the other hand, can now legally comment on Breneman. He wouldn’t elaborate on the young rookie’s recovery process (Breneman tore his right ACL in June), but he did say that Breneman adds to “one heck of a position for us coming back in ‘13.”
O’Brien added he is looking for Breneman and his early-enrolled teammates to adjust to the academic rigors of Penn State before he starts integrating them into the football program, notably into assistant coach Craig Fitzgerald’s strength and conditioning program.
“But we’re really excited about that group of guys, and then hopefully after signing day, everybody will see that we’ve brought in a great class of future Penn State football players,” O’Brien said.
Highly touted quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg and many others are slated to join the Lions this summer. They will top off many returning Penn State starters who led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record in 2012.
But when O’Brien wasn’t riding roller coasters with his son in Disney this offseason, he spent most of his time wooing recruits to represent the Penn State football program of a more distant future.
O’Brien said one of his priorities as Penn State’s coach is to reinforce the recruitment front with more manpower — a more valuable commodity if Penn State football is to stay afloat amid the sanctions.
“I think we can do things better,” O’Brien said. “I think a lot of, in college football, many of the things that take place in recruiting has a lot to do with manpower, so I just believe that we can add a few positions there, maybe a graduate assistant position or some other things I don’t want to get into…”