Wednesday brought the Penn State football program a big offensive lineman and a big back to run behind him.
The number of players committed to the Nittany Lions for their 2009 recruiting class rose to 14 yesterday with the announcements that West Mifflin tackle Adam Gress and Philadelphia, N.Y., Indian River running back Curtis Dukes had made verbal pledges.
Both Gress and Dukes are players that made a big splash this spring after being somewhat unheralded coming into the 2008 camp season, and both are considered to be prospects with very high ceilings.
Dukes actually called Lion assistant coach Mike McQueary with his commitment on Tuesday.
''I felt Penn State offered a combination of academics and competitiveness at a high level [in football],'' said Dukes, who also had scholarship offers from Syracuse, Pitt and Buffalo as well as a couple of Division I-AA schools.
Dukes was third-team all-state in 2006 when he ran for 1,342 yards and 15 touchdowns. As a junior, Dukes was limited to about 900 yards - although he averaged 14 yards per carry - from a halfback position in the Warriors' Jet Series Wing-T offense.
''The opportunities just weren't there for him. Defenses were taking him away, so we gave the ball to our other backs,'' Indian River coach Cory Marsell, whose team went 10-1 last year, said. ''Looking at what Penn State does, I believe he can make the first cut, and he's tough to bring down.''
That's because Dukes is 6-foot-2 and weighs 235 pounds. Even with that size, he's been timed faster than 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, making comparisons with a couple of Nittany Lion greats inevitable.
''I admire Larry Johnson - he's powerful, he has speed and he has size,'' Dukes said. ''Coach McQueary said I remind him of Curtis Enis.''
A cornerback on defense, Dukes also plays basketball and is a sprinter on the track team at Indian River. Marsell said he's run a 10.8-second 100 dash.
Dukes was actually too big to play peewee football. Penn State's other recruit from Wednesday might have been smaller than Dukes in sixth grade, although Gress, now 6-7, 295, definitely dwarfs him now.
''Since my freshman year, I've gained 100 pounds. I look at the pictures from then and now, and I can't believe it,'' a laughing Gress said. ''Spring rolled around, and I tried some shorts from last summer. They didn't fit.''
Gress was playing tight end as a 240-pound sophomore when Tim Brennan took over as West Mifflin's coach and moved him to left tackle.
''He just worked his butt off in the weight room. He looks about 250, but he'll play at 320, eventually. You just look at his build - he has big, broad shoulders,'' Brennan said. ''I think he has probably better feet now than before he went to camp. I think coaches were still waiting to see how well he moved [before offering scholarships].''
After seeing him, Gress, who also played basketball and was the center on the school's ice hockey team as a sophomore, got offers from West Virginia, Michigan and Rutgers to go along with those from almost every college in the MAC. The Mountaineers finished as the runners-up to the Nittany Lions.
''I was just waiting to see what place fit me best. I was looking for academics, good football, tradition, a nice campus and good people,'' Gress said. ''I figured I couldn't go wrong with Penn State.''
Gress was already very familiar with Penn State: He had an uncle who went to school there in the early 1980s and estimates he himself had been on campus about 10 times.
Gress joins a strong group of offensive linemen recruited by the Lions for 2009, including West Scranton All-American Eric Shrive, Mark Arcidiacono, Ty Howle and Frank Figueroa. Penn State might be looking to fill one or two more spots there, and is still involved with Ohio prospects Sam Longo and Nate Cadogan, the younger brother of current Lion tackle Gerald Cadogan.
The younger Cadogan, who is expected to make a decision soon, could also be recruited as a defensive end.
Another player Penn State is recruiting - Perkiomen School cornerback Abdul Smith - made a verbal commitment to Rutgers on Wednesday.
The Lions are hoping to ease Smith's loss by getting a commitment from Virginia defensive back Jordan Love.