Penn State class of 2014 linebacker commit Troy Reeder had built a close relationship with Ron Vanderlinden, beginning in his junior year at Salesianum School, a high school in Wilmington, Del.
And, it continued to flourish until Reeder got a call from Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler on Monday night. Butler had informed Reeder that Vanderlinden, who just finished his 13th year as Penn State’s linebacker coach, would not be returning to Penn State.
Along with quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, it was announced Monday that Vanderlinden had resigned “to pursue other opportunities.”
After Reeder spoke with Butler, the three-star recruit got a call from head coach Bill O’Brien later in the evening to make sure the linebacker was still firm in his verbal commitment to Penn State.
Reeder told O’Brien he was, despite the relationship he had with Vanderlinden.
“It was disappointing to me because I had spent the past year-and-a-half really bonding with coach Vand,” Reeder said in a phone interview. “But, I also know that coach O’Brien is going to bring in another great linebacker coach to follow in his footsteps. I have no doubt that they’re going to bring in the right guy to help me develop.”
Reeder said even after Vanderlinden’s resignation, he didn’t question his decision and remains fully committed to Penn State.
The Delaware state champion wasn’t the only linebacker to reaffirm their commitment to the Lions as Jason Cabinda, a class of 2014 three-star middle linebacker from New Jersey, also confirmed his pledge to the program.
“I didn’t rethink my decision in any way,” Cabinda said. “It didn’t affect me at all. It’s still Penn State University. It’s still Linebacker U.”
Over the years, Vanderlinden was instrumental in the growth of multiple star linebackers and the “Linebacker U” mantra. Many of those successful linebackers went on to play in the NFL, such as Sean Lee, Dan Connor, NaVorro Bowman, Paul Posluszny and Michael Mauti.
That intrigue of traditional success was always a selling point Vanderlinden made to linebackers, and Reeder said it played a substantial role into his decision to choose Penn State.
“His track record shows that he produced and developed guys into great linebackers. Guys who got drafted, guys who are in the NFL and who are going to be in the hall of fame in the NFL,” Reeder said.
But Vanderlinden’s sell was more than the success written in the past. To Reeder, the coach’s pitch of what Penn State was in the present — in the face of the NCAA sanctions — was also extremely important.
“One thing that really sold me was when coach Vand said that Penn State is on an upswing,” Reeder said. “They’ve conquered everything that’s gone against them sanction-wise...He just kind of opened my eyes that it’s still Penn State. There’s not going to be a downfall.”
Reeder said O’Brien and Butler visited his home Monday, and Cabinda said Butler spoke to him at his school Tuesday — all to confirm their commitments.
Reeder said O’Brien told him the Lions have multiple options in terms of choices for the new linebacker coach.
In the aforementioned press release, O’Brien said the search for a new linebacker and quarterback coach would be launched immediately.
Perhaps most importantly, after conversations with O’Brien and Butler, the two recruits are confident that the next linebacker coach will live up to the high standards.
“Coach O’Brien wouldn’t accept any [coach] less than exceptional,” Cabinda said. “So I have no worries.”
John McGonigal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828.
Follow him on Twitter at @jmcgonigal9.