UNIVERSITY PARK — Illinois coaches invaded State College this past summer, seeking players willing to make a cross-conference move because of the NCAA sanctions levied against Penn State.
The overzealous recruiting efforts resulted in reserve offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki leaving Penn State for the Fighting Illini
Don’t look for Nowicki to appear in Saturday’s Big Ten opener between the schools. And don’t look for Penn State players and coaches to publicly reveal their views toward the less-than- congenial behavior Illinois coach Tim Beckman and his staff demonstrated this past summer.
“I think we were only mad about it when it happened,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “We have gotten over it. We don’t care about it too much because it wasn’t like they were the only ones trying to contact us.”
Penn State lost nine athletes to other schools because of a NCAA waiver allowing players to transfer within Division I and compete immediately. Illinois was the only Big Ten school to land a former Nittany Lion.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien’s stances on the matter are difficult to determine.
Some samplings from Tuesday’s weekly news conference at Beaver Stadium:
Are you concerned that the focus of your players will be affected this week with regard to Illinois recruiting them in the summer?
O’Brien: “No, not at all. We started off (Monday) and had a really good team meeting reviewing the Temple game, things we did well and things we didn’t do well. I believe as we sit here today we have their attention on a very good Illinois team and a tough game coming up in Champaign.”
As vocal as some of your leaders were about the whole Illinois recruiting thing here, is it realistic to expect for that not to be a motivating factor as they prepare for this game?
O’Brien: “I certainly understand the question. But at the same time, the biggest thing is that this is our first Big Ten game. Our players are very focused on the Big Ten schedule.”
Illinois appeared to be the only Big Ten school that recruited your players. Does that bother you?
O’Brien: “It takes a lot to bother me, so I would tell you that, again, our players, myself, our staff, we’re very focused on the task at hand, which is practice today, first and second down practice, punt team, punt return team, PAT, field goal, PAT and field goal block.”
O’Brien offered his most candid response regarding Illinois when asked during the Big Ten coaches teleconference whether a summer encounter with Beckman resolved the matter.
“I think I met him at Big Ten media days,” O’Brien said. “That’s about it.”
Two talented Penn State players — Hill and sophomore linebacker Mike Hull — said Tuesday that they were not recruited by Illinois. The most vocal Nittany Lion about the recruiting situation, senior linebacker Michael Mauti, isn’t being made available to beat reporters this week. Mauti blasted the NCAA at the Big Ten media days for the recruiting situation it created at Penn State.
Senior fullback Michael Zordich said that Mauti isn’t more stoked than usual this week.
“It’s just like any other Saturday,” Zordich said. “We’re all ready to go. It’s the Big Ten now. We’re just excited and we’re all looking forward to it and we’re all fired up and excited to play Illinois.”
Beckman reiterated Tuesday that his program operated within NCAAestablished guidelines when contacting Penn State players. But he conceded that the hullabaloo of this past summer adds to Saturday’s intrigue.
“Does it affect this game any more?” Beckman said. “Sure, it has a little bit of an affect on this football game. But it’s still about tackling, blocking and doing things right fundamentally. It’s going to be a great college football game.”
A game with a juicy subplot.
“As a football player, you use any type of motivation that gets you going,” Hill said. “Some guys might, but I won't because it really didn't affect me. I was never in contact with them. I never saw them.”
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy