LaVar Arrington took the Bryce Jordan Center floor and got the Penn State fans to their feet. The former Nittany Lion All-American linebacker then led a “We Are Penn State” chant before introducing Penn State coach James Franklin.
Franklin took the microphone and kicked off “The Signature Event” with a joke.
“What LaVar doesn’t understand is he thinks we’re here tonight to talk about these recruits,” Franklin said. “But what we’re really here to talk about tonight is I applied to the NCAA and we got LaVar four more years of eligibility.”
Arrington playfully said he was ready to go and turned his attention to the focus of the night — introducing Penn State’s 25-player 2014 class on National Signing Day.
“I’m gonna attempt to be like a host,” said Arrington, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Arrington then settled into that role on Wednesday night, cracking jokes and offering transitions to each player after Franklin’s analysis. The coach brought the fans into the recruits’ living rooms, broke down their high school highlight films and gave them a glimpse of how they all fit into Penn State’s future plans.
Arrington was a first-team All-American in 1998 and 1999, before starring in the NFL. Arrington now hosts the “LaVar and the Dukes” radio show on 106.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C., in addition to appearing on the NFL Network’s “NFL AM.”
He said Franklin called him and said it was time to get the family back together, asking him to take part in the event. Arrington hammered that theme home with his first address to the crowd after being introduced by another former linebacker, Michael Mauti.
“We are a family that nothing or no one will ever, ever break,” Arrington said to applause from the Lions’ faithful.
But for much of the night, he tried to have some fun with Franklin and the crowd. He was impressed by the size of Penn State’s incoming defensive backs, signaling a change in the game, and he was pleased to nail the pronunciation of Amani Oruwariye’s name prior to seeing the defensive back from Tampa, Fla., flying around on the video screen.
After Franklin finished giving a look at Coatesville (Pa.) defensive back Daquan Worley, Arrington led the program into a break.
“How awesome is it that we have our head coach explaining to us our recruiting class?” Arrington said.
During the break, Arrington called for quarterback Christian Hackenberg, whom he likened to Clark Kent, and cornerback Jordan Lucas to take the floor.
Lucas pointed out the class’s six defensive backs and asked Arrington a question.
“LaVar, you said it’s what U?” Lucas said.
“It’s LBU,” Arrington said, referring to Penn State’s reputation as “Linebacker U.”
The Lions cornerback then tried to excite the crowd with the possibility of PSU adding “Defensive Back U” to its resume. But Arrington was skeptical.
“The quarterback’s real laid back, real diplomatic, he’s in control,” Arrington said to Franklin. “Jordan came out with his muscles and his tattoos, and he got the mike and he lost his mind.”
Arrington was joined by Mauti in representing the Lions’ proud past at linebacker. Mauti just finished his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings. He served as a team co-captain and was named a first-team All-American in 2012.
Mauti said he met with Franklin and the coaching staff Wednesday. And he’s fired up to see where they take the program.
“Right now, it’s just pure energy right now, just a shot of adrenaline into the Penn State program,” Mauti said. “I’m just so excited for what he’s gonna do for the future here at Penn State.
“I got no doubt in my mind, he’s bringing a national championship to Penn State.”
Mauti started a “We Are” chant of his own, gave a fist pump to the delight of the crowd and introduced Arrington.
The focus was on Franklin as he sold his first recruiting class to the fan base. He told a short story on each recruit and their families from his recruiting visits, and he grew animated with each big play they made on their highlight videos.
Arrington was with him every step of the way.
Some jokes landed. Some didn’t.
But he had the Lions fans entertained just as he did for so many Saturdays.
“I made a lot of plays here,” Arrington said. “You didn’t know I was a comedian — a struggling comedian.”