Under O'Brien, Penn State still plans to recruit Maryland heavily

The Baltimore Sun

New Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien knows it will be important to recruit the Maryland-D.C. corridor.

But re-establishing connections he made here as a Maryland assistant is very low on his long list of things to do. By keeping long-time defensive assistant Larry Johnson on staff, O’Brien made sure that Penn State has a strong presence in the area.

“I certainly know the sort of talent that comes out of Baltimore and D.C. and all in-between,” O’Brien said this week. “We built our teams at Maryland with those players, and they’re the type of kids we need at Penn State. That’s just another reason it made so much sense to keep Larry Johnson.”

Johnson has been on the Penn State staff since 1996, and is one of two coaches retained by O’Brien (former Maryland head coach Ron Vanderlinden is the other). Prior to moving into college coaching he was the head coach at T.C. Williams – the Virginia high school made famous in the movie Remember the Titans – and also won three Maryland state titles with McDonough High in Pomfret. His ties in the area run deep. He was the lead recruiter on Calvert Hall’s All-Metro duo of Da’Quan Davis and Trevor Williams, who committed last weekend shortly after rescinding verbals to West Virginia.

O’Brien, who also happens to be the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, has admittedly skimped on recruiting as he handles two jobs (though he did find time to Skype with Davis). He spent time in State College this week and was briefed on the status of the class – signing day is Wednesday – but he also accompanied current players to a special viewing for former coach Joe Paterno on Tuesday and dealt with administrative matters.

“That’s one thing that I’ve really left to my staff,” he said. “And from what I can tell, they’re doing a terrific job of it.”

O’Brien’s staff is so scattered that he hasn’t even had them all in the same room yet. Their first task was to check with the already-committed players to essentially re-recruit them now that the program has a new coach (247 Sports currently ranks Penn State's class fourth in the Big Ten, 34th in the nation). From there, they targeted both new seniors and juniors.

Paterno, the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, lost his job amidst the sexual abuse scandal involving his former long-time defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The events of the last several months have fractured the once-strong Penn State network and, at the very least, blemished the school’s reputation.

Atholton coach Kyle Schmitt, who was an offensive lineman at Maryland while O’Brien coached the running backs, said that local coaches have faith in O’Brien but there’s some concern about the situation at Penn State.

“Bringing back Larry Johnson was huge for this area,” he said. “That shows some stability. But you can’t ignore the uncertainty there in general. I grew up in Pennsylvania, we were huge fans, Penn State was everything. So much has changed now. And let’s face it, Coach O’Brien won’t even be in town on Signing Day.”

O’Brien has said that he decided to stay with the Patriots because he couldn’t fathom going into a recruit’s house and asking for loyalty if he didn’t fulfill his duty to the Patriots.

Ralph Friedgen, the coach who brought O’Brien to Maryland after the two had been assistants at Georgia Tech, feels that O’Brien will adjust easily in his return to the recruiting trail.

“He’s an emotional guy, but a straightforward guy,” he said. “He’ll just tell you what he thinks and be honest. That will appeal to a lot of people.”

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