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March 24, 2011

Phil Grosz's Inside Look at PSU recruiting

When the NCAA established the rule that written scholarship offers could not be extended from Division 1 (FBS) schools to prospects for the Class of 2012 before August 1st of their senior year, NCAA administrators were convinced they had taken a necessary step to slow down the whole recruiting process.

At least that is what the experts told the NCAA, but in reality just the opposite has taken place.

With the growth of the Internet, and the proliferation of the social networking systems such as Twitter and Facebook, football recruiting has taken on a whole new timeline perspective.

"Absolutely," Mike McQueary, Penn State's recruiting coordinator told BWI in a recent interview, "Twenty years ago you went and evaluated a senior on a Friday night in October then you offered him.

"Now that's being done with juniors a whole year ahead of time. That gets into how the whole calendar has speeded up, light years ahead of where it used to be."

Ten to 15 years ago there were essentially just five or six national recruiting individuals and services that actively followed recruiting.

There was Tom Lemming, Super Prep, Prep Stars, Joe Terranova, Bull Buchalter from the Orlando Sentinel, the G&W Recruiting Report and a few others.

When the Internet recruiting sites (Rivals.com and Scout.com) arrived in the late-1990s the football recruiting process for FBS programs was turned upside down.

"I don't think you can put into words how much it has changed," McQueary said, "Rivals and Scout have completely changed the equation.

"Now, it's almost gotten to a Fox News or CNN situation, where the news cycle is 24 hours, seven days a week. Everything is right at (everyone's) fingertips.

"And maybe it shouldn't, but it can get into your mindset a little bit as a program in terms of how you're recruiting and your timetable and calendar."

The real impact of how much Division 1 (FBS) football recruiting has changed over the past five years has manifested itself during the past 45 days since signing day (Feb. 2) for the Class of 2011.

During that 45 day period, no fewer than 147 players have verbally committed to programs in the six BCS power conferences and Notre Dame.

The reason for the explosion of early verbal commitments for the Class of 2012 is the fact FBS programs are now following Texas' and (Mack) Brown's lead and issuing verbal scholarship offers in February at twice and three times the level than they did in the past.

Michigan, under the leadership of its new head football coach, Bradley Hoke, has sent out close to 100 verbal scholarship offers to prospects in the Class of 2012 in February and March.

And Michigan isn't the only school that has decided to go in that direction with its recruiting approach.

Texas, Texas A&M, Florida, Southern Cal and Miami (Fla.) are examples of the 20 to 25 FBS programs that have issued close to, if not more than, 100 verbal scholarship offers to members of the Class of 2012 over the past 45 days since Feb. 2.

There isn't one FBS program that is immune to the changes that have been taking place in football recruiting. That includes Penn State.

At this time last year the Nittany Lions were very cautious with their approach to recruiting. Penn State had just 15 or 16 scholarships to give and by the end of March, Joe Paterno and his coaching staff had sent out approximately 13 or 14 written or verbal scholarship offers.

Now, with the NCAA mandating written scholarship offers can't be mailed until August 1st of the prospect's senior year, Paterno and his staff have taken a completely different approach to recruiting.

It has been a very aggressive approach that finds 53 members of the Class of 2012 from 18 different states having already received a verbal scholarship offer from Penn State.

The latest recipients are OL Greg Pyke (6-6, 315) from Boys' Latin School in Baltimore, Md. and Rivals' Top 250 LB Ukeme Eligwe (6-3, 210) from Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga.

That list also includes verbal scholarship offers from preseason AAs like Ath. D.J. Foster from Scottsdale, Ariz., WR/DB Davonte Neal from Scottsdale, Ariz., RB T.J. Yeldon from Daphne, Ala., TE Kent Taylor from Land O'Lakes, Fla., OL Patrick DeStefano from Roebuck, S.C., RB Keith Marshall from Raleigh, N.C., DL Sheldon Day from Indianapolis, Ind., DB Terry Richardson from Detroit, Mich. and LB James Ross from Orchard Lake, Mich.

However, that doesn't mean Penn State has ignored its home state of Pennsylvania and its natural recruiting basin within 300 miles of its campus in Happy Valley.

That's illustrated by the fact the Nittany Lions have verbally offered Pennsylvania's three likely 5-star Rivals.com candidates in AA RB Rushel Shell from Hopewell, AA DE Noah Spence from Harrisburg, and AA OL J.J. Denman from Fairless Hills.

This might be Pennsylvania's best class of prospects in more than a decade. Paterno and his staff have already issued 13 verbal scholarship offers to Class of 2012 members from Pennsylvania.

That number includes the state's top three offensive line prospects in Adam Bisnowaty from Fox Chapel, Chris Muller from Boyertown and Denman.

Some rank Bisnowaty, Denman and Muller among the top 30 offensive line prospects in the country for the Class of 2012.

It is not hard to understand why Penn State and the rest of Division 1 college football has taken this aggressive national recruiting approach.

With the availability of the Internet, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, if a school doesn't take advantage of Internet sites like Rivals and Scout, it won't take long for that D-1 school to discover they are way behind everyone else in the verbal scholarship offer race.

"As recruiting coordinator I try to monitor as much as I can on the Internet," McQueary told BWI, "That's because you need to be educated, and there's a lot of information out there."

Maybe YouTube has become the most valuable asset on the Internet in the recruiting process. It's an Internet asset McQueary values when evaluating prospects.

"Absolutely, and what we are seeing more of this year is YouTube," McQueary said, "We're getting more highlight films on YouTube than we're getting DVDs."

This is all part of the process why Penn State has been able to be so aggressive nationally with its recruiting effort.

McQueary and Penn State's entire staff of assistant coaches have done a remarkable job of completing Phase 1 of the recruiting process issuing now what appears to be 55 verbal scholarship offers for the Class of 2012.

Now, with important Junior Days coming up this weekend (March 25 and 26) as well as Saturday, April 2 and Saturday, April 9, it will be interesting to see if Penn State can land a few additional early verbal commitments following the Blue White Game (April 16) before the end of April.

So far it's been a job well done, but now the hard part of the recruiting process begins: landing early verbal commitments for the Class of 2012.


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