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Penn State Football’s ‘Name Popping Up Everywhere,’ Says Recruiting Guru Lemming

on February 26, 2012 10:00 PM

Nationally renowned recruiting expert Tom Lemming has been on the road for two months.

He’s been criss-crossing the United States, meeting and greeting many of the nation’s top high school football prospects.

By the time Lemming finishes his prep football tour at the end of April, he will have logged more than 50,000 miles and evaluated more than 1,200 prospects.

Wherever he goes these days, he hears the same thing:

“As I travel the country,” Lemming said, “Penn State’s name is popping up everywhere, more than it did in the past.”

With Lemming, that’s a long past – a third of a century’s worth. The Chicago native has been scouting and evaluating high school football players since 1978. These days, he is busy compiling his widely read Prep Football Report, considered by many the Bible of college football recruiting. 

Still, Lemming never had a cozy relationship with former head coach Joe Paterno or Penn State. And Lemming admits he isn’t buddies with new head coach Bill O’Brien, either.

But Lemming, who has a recruiting television show on the CBS Sports Network, is impressed with the way O’Brien is tackling recruiting after a five-year absence from the college game while he served as the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.

“Joe Paterno was a legend, an icon,” Lemming said over the phone as he journeyed across the U.S. “He attracted attention anytime he went on the road and the parents of the kids were crazy about seeing him. But unfortunately, he wasn’t going on the road much in his later years and that wasn’t helping Penn State nationally.

“Bill O’Brien seems to be spreading his recruiting all over the country, which is a good sign. I think it’s a refreshing change that Penn State is now more open and friendlier and not living in a vacuum like it did before. I think that will translate into landing more nationally known recruits.”

Paterno was relieved of his coaching duties on Nov. 9 amid the child sex abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The Hall of Fame coach died Jan. 22 at age 85 from complications of lung cancer.

Paterno had not visited a high school recruit away from State College since venturing to see quarterback Terrelle Pryor in Jeannette, Pa., in late January 2008. 
It didn’t help. Pryor, the nation’s No. 1 recruit at the time, chose another Big Ten school -- Ohio State -- over the Nittany Lions.

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O'Brien, 42, said late last month that the Lions would focus their future recruiting efforts within a 500-mile radius of Pennsylvania. He also said Penn State would recruit Florida, Texas and Georgia. The Peach State is where the Nittany Lions landed quarterback Steven Bench among their 19 recruits Feb. 1 on National Signing Day.

"We got to do a great job in Pennsylvania," O'Brien said. "Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, we've got to be the best we can to out-recruit anybody that comes in this state. We're a state university. We want guys to come here where their parents can come and watch them play, their state can cheer for them."

The fallout from the Sandusky scandal cost Penn State six recruits, including Pittsburgh-area tight end J.P. Holtz (Pitt) and Philadelphia quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg (Florida).

Four other defectors -- Massachusetts cornerback Armani Reeves and linebacker Camren Williams, Illinois defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, and Colorado offensive lineman Joey O'Connor – opted for rival Ohio State.

Defensive end Noah Spence from Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt, considered a shoo-in to go to Penn State prior to Sandusky being charged, also ended up signing with the Buckeyes, who have owned Western Pennsylvania in recent years, whether it be under former head coach Jim Tressel or newcomer Urban Meyer.

“Penn State is going to have to work hard to regain the state of Pennsylvania,” Lemming said. “Bill O’Brien and his staff have to go out and glad-hand people, make sure the high school coaches are taken care of.

“Outworking Urban Meyer will be a difficult task. Bill and his staff just have to be relentless.”

O’Brien’s previous work with Patriots Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady certainly should help Penn State land a Top 100 quarterback or two in its Class of 2013.

Two Virginia signal-callers -- Ryan Burns and Christian Hackenberg – already have received scholarship offers from the Nittany Lions.

“I visited with both of those guys recently -- they are among two of the best quarterbacks in the country. Both appear to be leaning toward committing to Penn State,” Lemming said.

“They were impressed with what Coach O’Brien said about the quarterback position, how he trains them and how they would fit into his system.

“I don’t think Penn State will be hurting at quarterback after this year."

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