Eighteen freshmen are arriving on Penn State’s campus already hardened by the perils of college football.
Penn State’s 2012 recruiting class reports for the second summer session today. Checking into the dorms and formally receiving summer workout programs provides closure for one of the most unpredictable recruiting cycles in program history.
The class includes 19 players from nine states — tight end Jesse James enrolled in January. The group could have been bigger. The class lost multiple key pieces, including four to a conference rival, after the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal and Joe Pater-no’s ouster.
The players who committed before last November faced a difficult decision upon concluding their senior football seasons: Should they stick with Penn State?
The question turned energetic teenagers into deep thinkers.
Nyeem Wartmam, a linebacker from northeastern Pennsylvania, said he chose to honor his commitment for various reasons, including academics and defensive stability. Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and defensive line coach Larry Johnson were the only coaches retained by Bill O’Brien, who was officially hired as head coach on Jan. 6.
“The main reasons I committed to Penn State were Coach Vanderlinden, great academics and a great D-line,” said Wartman, who plans to major in communications or business. “Those things are still there. Why not? Any linebacker would love to be in front of a great d-line.”
Still, Wartman said the past seven months haven’t been easy. Wartman and fellow incoming freshman Eugene Lewis participated in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in Dallas last December.
The game, which was played at palatial Cowboys Stadium, introduced the duo to some of the negativity surrounding Penn State.
“It hurt us,” Wartman said. “Everybody had Sandusky jokes. They were saying, ‘You are going to Penn State. Why would you go there?’ They were players not knowing the story and not being from there.”
Not everyone could handle the negativity and coaching change. The class lost six members because of the uncertainty. Four talented athletes linebacker Camren Williams, defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, offensive lineman Joey OConnor and cornerback Armani Reeves signed with Ohio State. Penn State also lost quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and tight end J.P. Holtz to Florida and Pitt, respectively.
For the people that stayed, I really respect that, Lewis said. Even for the people that left, I respect that too. You have to make the best decision for yourself and the decision was made for them. Thats what you have to do.
Lewis said the ordeal has strengthened the bond among players in the class. The incoming freshmen have been exchanging phone calls, text messages and tweets as the anticipation for today built.
This whole situation has put us through a lot, Lewis said. Theres a lot of people talking about it. Everybody has their own opinions. At the end of the day, we are going to be a Penn State family and Nittany Lions and we have to represents ourselves the way it should be.
OBrien lauded the recruiting class throughout the winter and spring.
I was really proud of those guys because they stuck with their commitment and to me thats what its all about, OBrien said last month. They got to know me. They got to know our staff. More importantly, they stayed with us because we believed in them and they believed in us.
Where other players might see turmoil, the incoming freshmen sense opportunity. They will be the first freshmen class coached by OBrien and six other first-year Penn State coaches.
I feel like its a once in a lifetime opportunity, said Evan Schwan, a defensive end from Harrisburg who committed to Penn State after OBriens hiring. I feel blessed to go up there. Coach OBrien is a really good coach. I feel like hes going to change the program for the good.
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