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Penn State Football: No Time Like the Present to Hit the Road Recruiting

by on October 08, 2012 4:00 AM

When it comes to recruiting, there’s no time like the present to hit the road to sell Penn State football.

There is Saturday’s exciting 22-point fourth quarter. A comeback victory over a ranked opponent on national TV, the sixth straight contest on ABC or ESPN.

There’s also the weekend’s third-largest crowd in all of college football. A four-game winning streak. And the second-largest student section in the country.

Then there’s a high-powered, yet controlled offensive system that allows the quarterback to throw just one interception in his last 173 attempts. And yes, there’s also Bill O’Brien.

Damn the NCAA sanctions, full speed ahead. Nittany Lion secondary coach John Butler loves the story he has to tell high school juniors and seniors later this week.

“The win helps publicly,” said Butler, a Philadelphia native who also coaches the special teams. “We’re going on the road recruiting Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We’ll go out and see games and kids and basically spread the message: ‘Where else would you rather play college football than here?' The more you win, the easier it is to recruit. So going into a bye week with a win, winning four in a row, is great.”

In a decidedly peripatetic coaching career, since 1995 Butler has coached at South Carolina, Minnesota, Harvard, Texas State, Texas and Midwestern State. He’s been on the road, too, from the Ivy League to the Lone Star Conference. All things considered, he'd rather be at Penn State.

“Anybody that says otherwise has not been to a game here,” Butler said. “I’ve coached in a lot of places and seen a lot of places, so I know.”

Although Penn State has taken its knocks about its attendance in 2012, the glass is still 89.82 percent full. It's a tall drink that almost any program in the country would love to have. Only four college teams -- Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama and Texas; heard of 'em? -- have averaged more home fans this season. The Nittany Lions draw more than all 32 NFL teams, too, including league-leader Dallas (86,032).

A packed Beaver Stadium for home games against undefeated Ohio State (Oct. 27), Indiana (Nov. 17) and Wisconsin (Nov. 24) could still give the Nittany Lions an average home attendance of near 100,000 for the season. That would be within shouting distance of 2011’s 101,427 average. And in case you hadn’t noticed, a bit has happened since then.

Still, this past weekend there were 299 college football games played. There were 55 in the FBS division, followed by the FCS (53), Division II (83) and Division III (108).

The vocal 96,357 fans that roared in Beaver Stadium comprised the third-best crowd of the weekend, trailing only Ohio State and Texas, and nearly 5,000 fans ahead of Florida, fourth in national attendance on Saturday. There were more fans in Beaver Stadium than the bottom seven FBS games – combined. And there was almost the same number as the top 12 games in Division II – combined.

O’Brien was impressed most of all by the Penn State student section, which is basically half the size of the entire University Park student body.

“I can’t say enough about our students,” said O’Brien. ”We asked them to be out there early. They were there, in force, standing up, loud. They came up big. We need them every game like that. We just have to have that student section. Our players really feed off of that. This is a great college football atmosphere.”

O’Brien made a midweek pizza delivery at Nittanyville to recruit the residents on ensuring a packed house, urging them to take the lead. His game plan included a wild south end zone, and he worked to make it happen. His focus permeates the program these days. He knows what he wants, in the second-floor coaches meeting room in Lasch Building and on the practice field.

“You better get on board,” said defensive coordinator Ted Roof, “because it’s our way, his way. The vision is very clear. He talks about how he wants to play the game. Not just offense or defense, but how they impact each other and how we play complementary football. He preaches to the team, he preaches to the staff: We’re going to play to win. And that’s what he does.”

A big part of that is how O’Brien has given the keys to the car to Matt McGloin – but only after spending months and months teaching him to drive stick. “The quarterback is the decision-maker,” said Roof. “There’s a lot of trust there. That’s who we are, that’s our identity.”

That identity includes an offense that is 13 of 20 on fourth down, as well as a ballsy and no-longer-ballistic quarterback in McGloin, who has already thrown for 1,499 yards and 12 touchdowns, and has run for five more.

Since throwing an interception in the dire hope of overcoming a 10-point deficit with two minutes left in the season-opener against Ohio, McGloin had just the aforementioned solitary pick among his past 173 passes.

The Nittany Lions are on a roll.

“If I was in high school,” said senior cornerback Stephon Morris, “I wouldn’t go anywhere else.

“When coach O’Brien came out on the field after I got pass interference, that shows how he fights for his team. You want to play for a coach who fights for you.”

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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