UNIVERSITY PARK -- Doran Grant could have very easily made the short trip from Akron to Columbus on Saturday when Ohio State hosted a Nike Football Training Camp, which also included a prestigious Elite 11 Quarterback Camp.
Instead, however, the blue-chip defensive back from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School bypassed it to attend the camp's session at Penn State's Holuba Hall on Sunday.
"I finally got to meet my favorite coach, Coach Joe Paterno,'' Grant said. "I've been waiting to meet him for the longest time. It was an honor to meet him. We sat in his office and had a good conversation.''
With Penn State only having somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 scholarships to hand out for its 2011 recruiting class, Grant is one of the few prospects already to have a written offer from the Lions. Most feel that it will be tough to lure him away from the home-state Buckeyes or Michigan State, where his father, Ted Jones, was an all-Big Ten wide receiver.
However, when one reporter asked Grant to list at who he was looking, Penn State was the third college he mentioned -- right after Ohio State and Michigan State and before USC.
Prospects are not allowed to have contact with the coaches while on campus the day of the camp, but Grant came up a day early just for that purpose.
That has to be seen as a positive for the Nittany Lions.
"I met with Coach Jay Paterno when we first got here,'' Grant said. "He walked us around the facilities, showed us the stadium. I knew it was big. I didn't know it was that big. I enjoyed just looking at it.''
A very well put-together 5-foot-10, 177-pounder, Grant came into the camp ranked as the No. 2 cornerback in his class by Scout.com. Working a little as a safety, too, Grant lived up to the hype and was selected as the most valuable player at the camp at his position, showing ability to cover, play the ball and close on ballcarriers after the catch in front of him.
He was also recognized for putting together the fourth-best SPARQ rating in the country this spring. SPARQ is a measure of tested physical skills, including the 40-yard dash and vertical jump, none of which were performed Sunday.
Grant said he is looking to announce his college choice at the U.S. Army All-American Game in January. Defensive scheme, connection with players and coaches and an opportunity to play early -- "I know I can make things happen,'' Grant said -- are among the criteria he'll use in making his decision.
This was Grant's second visit to University Park. He was also at last year's Nike Camp, but he didn't tour the campus during that trip.
He said it won't be his last.
"I'm definitely coming back here in the fall, especially for a game,'' Grant said. "I'll see how everything goes. [Penn State] may also get an official visit.''
Jarrett still waiting
East Stroudsburg South's Kyshoen Jarrett was one of the first players identified as a prospect to fill what looked to be Penn State's most pressing need for 2011 at defensive back. However, with the school year about to end, Jarrett has yet to receive a scholarship offer from the Lions.
"We've been talking little by little,'' Jarrett said. "They haven't said much about offering. They just have to take it day by day. They have limited offers. If they don't offer me, that's fine. I'll still love Penn State. But, if they do, then, hey, I can take that wherever it happens to go.''
The general consensus among the scouting circle is the Lions would immediately jump to the top of Jarrett's list -- and, possibly, get a verbal commitment -- if they extended a scholarship offer. Jarrett has been on campus several times, and, while he said he didn't grow up a Penn State fan or even a watcher of college football until the last couple of years, he's become a big admirer of the school, the team and Joe Paterno.
One of the biggest knocks on Jarrett has concerned his speed. Reportedly, he only runs in the 4.5s in the 40. However, he's usually lauded for his quickness and instincts and could play either cornerback or safety, depending on the system. He has 13 scholarship offers.
"I can play in any defense. I definitely love to press man. Or, put me on an island by myself. I'll do whatever I have to do to help the team,'' Jarrett said. "I'm a very physical corner. A lot of teams are looking for some tall corners. I'm definitely not 6-foot, but I'm 5-11 and very physical and well-built, and I think [colleges] like that. And, to be well-built with quick feet and good hips, and I'm also a good tackler, I think they are looking for that.''
Shuler at receiver
Positionally speaking, wide receiver and defensive back probably were the two strongest areas at the camp. The decision of Long Branch, N.J. quarterback Miles Shuler to work at receiver helped make it so.
"Most colleges want me to play wide receiver or running back. That's where they think I project at,'' said Shuler, who looks smaller than his listed 5-10, 173-pound measurements but is a gifted athlete who has timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.38 seconds and has one of the fastest times in the country this year in the 55 meters, 6.35. "Some coaches like Pittsburgh and Oklahoma want me to play defensive back, but they wouldn't care if I played wide receiver.''
Shuler looked like a natural, making at least one sensational one-hand grab at his new position.
Shuler doesn't have an offer from Penn State yet.
"They're waiting for me meet the coaches, [get to see] the facilities and make sure they know they're interested in me,'' Shuler said. "I believe I'll come back in the summer. I don't have any set dates yet, so I believe I'll come back up and see what they have to offer.''
Shuler specifically mentioned wanting to see Penn State when classes were in session. He carries a 3.88 grade-point average and has scholarship offers from Stanford, Vanderbilt and Northwestern, all elite academic institutions.
The rest of Shuler's list currently includes Pitt, Rutgers, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Michigan and Oklahoma.
On the line
Defensive line was another area that had a solid crop of talent. Included in that group were three players the Nittany Lions are following closely: Baltimore Boys Latin end Marco Jones, Northeast Philadelphia end Deion Barnes and gigantic Washington D.C. Friendship Collegiate junior tackle Eddie Goldman.
Both Jones and Barnes looked good rushing the passer in one-on-one competition. Barnes was exceptionally explosive. Depending on where you look, he's listed anywhere from 6-3 to 6-3 and 220 to 235 pounds, but he looks very lean and has the frame to put on a lot of good weight. One scout wondered if he might be able to grow into an offensive tackle.
Jones' mother, Naykia, said her son has eight scholarship offers if you count the verbal offer Penn State has extended. Jones goes around 6-4, 250 and is very compact at that size. Naykia Jones said her son loves to play defense and really enjoyed his visit to Penn State for the Blue-White Game late in April.
Goldman is a manchild on the inside, big enough to stuff the run and agile enough to get to the quarterback. Reportedly, he didn't look as good as he has at some other camps and combines, which makes one salivate at his ability, because he still was a dominating presence here in large part.
Sources have said Lion assistant Larry Johnson Sr. loves Goldman, but Johnson isn't alone in that respect, and Penn State will have its work cut out when it comes to recruiting him. Goldman's father, also named Eddie, said his son currently has 17 scholarship offers now that LSU offered just last week. Several of those colleges are in the SEC or perennial top-25 programs, although the elder Goldman said his son is still just getting started in figuring out where he might want to eventually play his college football.
Another player with whom Penn State has been involved, Central Dauphin's Artie Rowell, won the MVP award for the offensive line. Rowell doesn't have an offer but has been at Penn State a couple of times. However, the Lions aren't expected to give out many offensive line scholarships this year, and Rowell, who looked a bit undersized, will probably be waiting until Penn State's top two or three targets make their intentions known.
Fox Chapel junior Adam Bisnowaty and Virginia Liberty Christian senior Grant Jones also had onlookers saying a lot of positive things.
Huggins, Smith among no-shows
With NCAA rules now prohibiting colleges from attending the camp, the fact that there was the camp at Ohio State the day before and with combines and training camps now being divided into separate entities, attendance was somewhat down over what it has been in past years.
Several of the top names on the camp roster didn't attend, including a couple of key Penn State recruiting targets, New Jersey blue-chip running back Savon Huggins and Maryland offensive tackle Donovan Smith.
Along with Grant, Huggins might be the most highly-touted recruit on Penn State's board for this season. The Lions, meanwhile, are considered to be very well-positioned to land Smith.
Another player that could be on the Nittany Lions' radar but wasn't in attendance was Erie Cathedral Prep running back/defensive back Justin Wiley.
However, one player not originally scheduled to be at the camp who was on the walk-up list was Red Bank (N.J) Catholic tight end Jack Tabb. Many consider Tabb the likely successor to Penn State's recruiting attentions at tight end now that Oil City's Ben Koyack has verbally committed to Notre Dame.
In addition to Grant and Rowell, position MVPs as chosen by their instructors were: Damiere Byrd (wide receivers), Brian Dowling (running backs), Max Issaka (defensive linemen), Matt Johnson (quarterbacks) and Anthony Sarao (linebackers).
Johnson plays for Bishop McDevitt and Byrd and Sarao are highly-regarded players from New Jersey. Sarao has committed to Stanford.
Area players involved
Three players from the Mirror coverage area took part in the camp. Central's Lucas Runk was with the defensive backs, while Hollidaysburg's Luke Rhodes and Bishop Carroll's Josh Chumrik worked out at linebacker.
Indian Valley running backs Matt Fultz and Zach Hassinger and Westmont Hilltop offensive lineman Garrett Lucas also were among the approximately 270 players in attendance.
Bernie Sarra isn't from District 6 or District 5, but the all-state offensive lineman from Greensburg Central Catholic has plenty of area ties, and he and his family used the camp as an occasion for a bit of a mini-family reunion.
Sarra's uncle is David Atkins, the father of several athletes at Northern Cambria.
Of course, Sarra's great uncle is former Penn State defensive line coach Joe Sarra, who retired in 2004. He was also there to watch his great nephew perform.
Also working out was South Fayette quarterback Christian Brumbaugh, the nephew of Tussey Mountain athletic director Rod Brumbaugh.
Phil Grosz of G&W Prep Report said Brumbaugh may be the top quarterback in the WPIAL in 2010 after throwing for 2,200 yards his junior season.
Fittingly since it was at Penn State, there were several other touted prospects working with Rhodes, Chumrik and Sarao at linebacker. One of them was Pottsgrove's Maika Polamalu, the son of former Nittany Lion Al Pola and cousin of Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu.
Also on that list were Rochester Bishop Kearney's Quentin Gause and Dallastown's Ben Kline, both of whom already looked like college athletes in terms of physique.
DB High School
Since turning out Justin King a few years ago, Gateway has had a seemingly limitless number of quality defensive backs come through its program.
It looks like that trend will continue. Camp attendee Dondi Kirby is being touted as the latest in the line and performed well according to observers.