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Belle Vernon's Johnson picks Penn State

| Sunday, June 24, 2012, 8:28 p.m.
Belle Vernon offensive lineman Dorian Johnson (left) ended an intense regional recruiting battle Sunday, picking Penn State over Pitt, Ohio State and West Virginia. Jim Ference | Tribune-Review

The verdict in the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault case had been announced the night before, the latest development in a scandal that has rocked the Penn State football program.

When Belle Vernon offensive lineman Dorian Johnson visited Penn State Saturday, his focus was on its future.

The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Johnson, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds and is regarded as one of the top left tackles in the nation, gave the Nittany Lions a verbal commitment Sunday. The four-star prospect was one of the most heavily recruited players in Western Pennsylvania, with programs such as reigning BCS national champion Alabama and traditional powers Nebraska, Notre Dame and Southern Cal among his 30 scholarship offers. His recruitment, however, turned into an intense regional battle that saw Johnson pick Penn State over Pitt, Ohio State and West Virginia.

Johnson is the Nittany Lions 12th recruit in the Class of 2013 and the first WPIAL player to commit to new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, hired in January to replace the legendary Joe Paterno after he was fired in November following the announcement of the charges against Sandusky, his longtime defensive coordinator and architect of Linebacker U. Penn State signed South Allegheny tight end Jesse James this past winter, but he committed to Paterno's staff and enrolled in January before O'Brien was hired.

“(The Sandusky case) didn't have anything to do with my decision at all,” Johnson said. “I like that the new staff and the football program is going in a new direction.”

Johnson said he ultimately picked Penn State over Pitt, which he visited a dozen times, despite a strong relationship with Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, a Belle Vernon alum.

“I was comfortable with both schools and their coaching staffs,” Johnson said. “I like Penn State's campus and felt like I would get a good education. You're playing big-time football.”

O'Brien and his staff hosted Johnson and his mother, Lisa Cotton, and maternal grandmother, Jackie Johnson, on campus Saturday afternoon. On their ride home, Johnson told them he felt comfortable at Penn State, and they gave their stamp of approval.

“I told them on the ride home, ‘This is where I want to be,'” Johnson said. “I definitely wanted to get it out of the way and focus on having a good senior year.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kgorman@tribweb.com or 412-320-7812.

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