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Gorman: Penn State can't miss with limited scholarships

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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review Penn State head coach Bill O' Brien leads his team through a practice session on the fields next to Holuba Hall following Media Day festivities on August 09, 2012.
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Penn State is having problems with retention and recruiting, what with players transferring and prospects backing out of verbal commitments.

The NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal placed a restriction on scholarships, limiting the Nittany Lions to 15 each year, only complicate matters for a coaching staff trying to replenish the roster.

Still, it can't stop Charles London from smiling.

“It hasn't changed our philosophy at all,” said London, Penn State's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. “We're recruiting the best of the best. This is Penn State, and it's always going to be Penn State.”

London is optimistic but realistic. The Lions have had 10 players transfer and six recruits renege, including Belle Vernon tackle Dorian Johnson and Philadelphia receiver Will Fuller.

With 10 fewer scholarships to give per year, London knows the Nittany Lions can't afford to make mistakes or take too many risks.

An ace recruiter once told me that college coaches sign 25 players every year knowing that half the class will become casualties to academics, law or team violations and injuries.

Given that Penn State has only 15 scholarships to give each of the next four years, the Lions have little room for error in evaluations.

“With the reduction, we won't be able to miss,” London said. “We'll have to be that much more exact.”

It hasn't helped that Penn State has lost a player at every position to transfers, diluting the depth chart and forcing the coaching staff to adjust its strategy on the fly.

“The numbers may change because it's kind of a fluid number,” said London, who recruits Western Pennsylvania.

“We kind of reassess where we're at daily.”

The scholarship restrictions could make preferred walk-ons a priority, London said, especially with in-state prospects who would rather play in the Big Ten than a non-BCS conference.

What will help Penn State is that every coach will be active in recruiting, starting with Bill O'Brien. That alone is a major change from Joe Paterno's past decade.

“The goal is to be competitive every year,” London said. “Coach O'Brien says it best: ‘We're used to dealing with an NFL 53-man roster.' ”

So the logic goes, having a 65-man roster should be a luxury for the former New England Patriots play-caller.

Truth is, if Penn State is going to be Penn State, it has to recruit like never before.

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