Brian Gaia won't be with his Gilman football teammates when they sign their national letters of intent Wednesday morning. He'll be getting ready to take on the world.
The All-Metro lineman has been in Austin, Texas, this week preparing for Wednesday night's International Bowl, which pits the United States Under-19 team against a World Team of players from 20 countries, including American Samoa, Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Japan and Mexico.
The players, however, will take a little time out of their busy schedule for a national signing day breakfast celebration, during which Gaia plans to sign with Penn State, a program he remained committed to through the uncertain ramifications of the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal and the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno.
"I was disappointed at first," Gaia said, "but then I sat down and realized I was just going to wait it out and see what happened and from there I'd make my choice. I'm not going to lie about [considering rescinding the oral commitment]. I did, but I knew deep down that they weren't going to let it fall apart because football is everything up there."
Gaia will put all of that behind him when he signs Wednesday. Dozens of other local athletes also will make their commitments official on the opening day of the official signing period for football, soccer, field hockey, cross country and track.
At the International Bowl, Gaia is one 47 U.S. Team players and seven from the World Team expected to sign Wednesday. The game kicks off at 6 p.m. at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex and will be televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network.
Last month, Gaia played in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in Phoenix, and he finds national all-star games a good bridge from high school to college ball.
"It's kind of like a step into college football because you're playing against better athletes now and everybody's a good player there just like it will be in college," he said. "You want to win the game, but it doesn't matter if you don't. You're just there to have fun and show how good your friends are."
At the International Bowl, Gaia also looked forward to meeting players from other nations who share the common language of football and seeing how they play the game.
"I think [the style] will be the same, but it will be interesting to see how other countries stack up against America," said Gaia, the second Gilman player to participate in the three-year old International Bowl after lineman Hunter Goodwin last year.
At the Semper Fi Bowl, the 6-foot-4 Gaia was named one of the top three lineman, despite having cut nearly 20 pounds from his 295-pound playing weight for wrestling season.
CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming selected Gaia for both bowl games.
"He's super strong," Lemming said. "He's 100 percent on every play, offense or defense. His versatility was a big reason why I selected him. He can play on either side of the ball where a lot of kids either can't or they don't want to. Brian's a guy who could play offensive tackle, offensive guard, defensive tackle. He can do it all. His versatility is unique."
At No. 1 Gilman, where Gaia was a two-time All-Metro offensive lineman, he dominated the line of scrimmage. Coach Biff Poggi called him the best linemen he has ever coached. The 17-year old led the way last fall for an offense that ran for 2,727 yards and, on the defensive line, he excelled as a run stopper.
His versatility might earn him an unusual opportunity Wednesday night.
"He might play a little bit of fullback, which will be interesting," Gilman assistant coach Henry Russell said. "I'm not sure what the thinking is there, but he would be a big powerful lead blocker. He might be the biggest fullback ever in high school football."
At Penn State, Gaia will play defensive tackle, where he said he will have a chance to compete for playing time right away.
"They said one of the three [defensive] tackles in this class are going to have to play a little as true freshmen, so that opens up the competition between all of us. I'd really like to play as a true freshmen, but even if I did get redshirted or something like that, it would give me a year to get bigger and get used to college both academically and athletics-wise."
Gaia has a 3.4 GPA and plans to major in business, although he hopes to be on course for the NFL. He chose Penn State over Auburn, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, West Virginia, Iowa, Maryland, Connecticut, Syracuse and Central Florida.
He committed in May and had just returned from a visit to State College a few days before the Sandusky scandal broke in early November. His decision to stick with the Nittany Lions, while others rescinded their commitments, came with a lot of patience and a lot of thought about the future of Penn State football.
Through the scandal and the university's search for a new coach, Gaia took advice from his father, Tim, and Poggi, who told him to resist a knee-jerk reaction. That wasn't easy when coaches from other programs started calling right away.
Tim Gaia said he was impressed with how quickly new coachBill O'Brienpulled his staff together, which happened while the Gaias were in State College for Brian's official visit.
"We had a Plan B," Tim Gaia said, "and we were ready to pull the trigger on it, but we waited. We supported Brian. He had his reservations, and rightfully so, but he was still committed and we supported him. Is it going to be an easy road from here? I think there will be some bumps in the road. The coaches on [O'Brien's] staff that he kept and the new coaches he brought in that were in the NFL and college have unbelievable resumes. That made me feel comfortable."
About a week after the scandal broke, Brian Gaia heard from defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., who had recruited him. One of the keys to Gaia staying with the Nittany Lions, he said, was Johnson staying on as part of O'Brien's staff.
Brian Gaia met O'Brien earlier this month and said he feels the new coach can put the program back in the positive headlines.
"[Paterno] was one of the reasons why I picked Penn State, to play for a legendary coach," Gaia said, "so it did affect me a lot when he was fired. But he laid the foundation that even if he had retired during my time there, the school would pick a coach that wasn't a slacker or something like that. I was confident that it was still going to be Penn State."
High School: Gilman
Size: 6-foot-4, 195 pounds
College choice: Penn State
Other schools considered: Auburn, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, West Virginia, Iowa, Maryland, Connecticut, Syracuse and Central Florida
All-star games: Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, International Bowl; chosen for the Crab Bowl and the Chesapeake Bowl but did not playCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun