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Scholarship restrictions force Penn State to alter recruiting tactics

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 11:06 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Alquippa's Dravon Henry was named to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Terrific 25 in 2012. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

Nick Scott averaged more than 10 yards per carry as a junior at Fairfax (Va.) High, but his coach doesn't just gush about Scott's ability to run with authority and seemingly glide once he breaks into the open field.

Scott also threw a touchdown pass in 2012 while reaching the end zone as a receiver and a kickoff returner. And the 6-foot, 200-pounder may have a future on the other side of the ball considering Alabama has shown interest in Scott as a cornerback.

“He's going to be a jack of all trades,” Fairfax coach Kevin Symonds said.

That versatility makes Scott an ideal recruit, at least on paper, for Penn State.

He is one of three prep players who have given the Nittany Lions a verbal commitment for their 2014 recruiting class.

And there may not be too many more joining Scott, running back Mark Allen and linebacker Troy Reeder, even though the start of the 2013 high school football season is still almost six months away.

Penn State is limited to signing 15 players in 2014 because of NCAA sanctions, and the number could be less than that since the Nittany Lions are allowed to have only 65 players on scholarship for the 2014 season. Depending on how much turnover is generated by players graduating and transferring, Penn State's 2014 recruiting class could end up somewhere in the low teens.

“I don't know if it changes our recruiting philosophy,” Penn State recruiting coordinator Charles London said of the restrictions, “but we definitely look to see if a guy can play multiple positions.”

The need for versatility will manifest itself in several ways.

All players except for quarterbacks and offensive linemen will be expected to have the capability of helping on at least one of the core special teams units (kickoff and punt coverage and kickoff and punt return).

Penn State also may have to target, for example, bigger cornerbacks in recruiting so those players have the size to move to safety in case they don't work out at cornerback.

What is clear is how selective Penn State coach Bill O'Brien will have to be when offering scholarships.

O'Brien all but said last week that Penn State is unlikely to sign a quarterback in 2014 because of the NCAA sanctions. Penn State also has yet to offer a scholarship to Bethel Park offensive tackle Mike Grimm despite his enormous potential.

Grimm was one of about 40 prospects that Penn State hosted for junior day Feb. 23 — there were five from the WPIAL — and the coaching staff is high on the 6-7, 315-pounder, as are a bunch of other schools.

But Penn State is unlikely to sign more than one offensive tackle in 2014 because of the sanctions, and it is still evaluating those prospects where there is mutual interest. Hence, a sheer numbers crunch is why Grimm is still waiting on a scholarship offer from Penn State.

One thing that has pleasantly surprised O'Brien, the second-year coach said last week, is how receptive recruits still are to playing at Penn State despite the harsh sanctions and limitations that come with them.

“Many, many top student-athletes — not just in Pennsylvania but really in the Northeast and even some in the South — still have a big-time interest in our program,” O'Brien said.

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