Bill Belton's favorite college football team growing up was Penn State, but, when it came time to commit to a school, Belton picked Pitt over close to 20 others.
Then Dave Wannstedt stepped down as the Panthers coach, and Nittany Lion assistant Mike McQueary stepped in to make Belton's dream come true.
"Everything happens for a reason,'' Belton said.
After a recruiting courtship of just about a month, Belton, who put together a record-setting career at Winslow Township High School in southern New Jersey, on Monday night became the 13th member of Penn State's 2011 recruiting class.
The Cherry Hill Courier-Post player of the year and a first-team Group III all-New Jersey pick, Belton is Scout.com's 11th-ranked wide receiver prospect in this year's senior class and the third wideout to commit to the Nittany Lions.
Belton's high school coach, Mike McBride, has sent four players to the NFL in his 21 years on the sidelines - Donovan Darius, Rashad Baker, Jamaal Green and Turk McBride - and he said Belton stands right up there with them among his all-time best.
"What he has and what those other guys have is the work ethic. They would outwork everybody,'' McBride said. "I can't wait for his first practice at Penn State. They are going to love him. He's a blue-collar player.''
Belton might be blue-collar, but with some flash and dash, too. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Belton played quarterback for McBride's Eagles the past two years, becoming the first player in New Jersey history to reach 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in consecutive seasons. He piled up 6,667 yards of total offense and 74 touchdowns as a junior and senior running a spread offense.
McBride's description of Belton evokes memories of another player who went on to have an outstanding career at Penn State after being moved to receiver who reverted to being a running back after the catch, O.J. McDuffie.
"He's a very dynamic runner. He's a tough, thick kid. The natural assumption would be that he'd be a smaller scatback. And he's Midwestern tough, tough as nails,'' McBride said. "He understands the game. He has a high football IQ. I don't think the transition to college will be very difficult for him. He's a great student, and very coachable.
"It's rare to find kids with that.''
While Belton isn't afraid to take a hit or dish one out, he's best known for his ability to avoid them. While not considered a speed burner with a 40-yard dash time somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.55 seconds - he's working to improve that as a sprinter on the track team - Belton has remarkably quick feet and outstanding balance. His favorite player is Percy Harvin, and some who've watched him see similarities between him and his idol.
"Our last game [against Eastern], he made about eight guys miss on one run,'' McBride said. "It was one of those 'no, no, no, go, go, go' plays. There were newspaper guys standing near me. We just looked at each other and shook our heads.''
Belton had a long time to work on those moves. He said his father put a football in his hands when he was 4. He's also had two cousins turn out to be college quarterbacks, including former Maryland Terrapin Clay Belton.
"God has blessed me with talent,'' Belton said, "but most of it is mental. If you have the will to win, it will give you an edge.''
Although Penn State was always Belton's dream school, the Nittany Lions offered late in May, close to the time he wanted to pick a college. He committed to Pitt two weeks later over the Nittany Lions, as well as Cincinnati, West Virginia, Oregon, Louisville, Florida, Maryland, South Carolina and Purdue.
However, when Pitt moved to change coaches in December, Belton reopened his recruiting, looking hardest at Penn State, West Virginia and Cincinnati. He committed to the Lions on Monday night during an in-home visit from McQueary, with whom he formed a bond.
"Relationships are always big,'' Belton said. "My relationship with Coach McQueary was the biggest reason I chose Penn State.''
Belton, who plans to major in occupational therapy, has been told he'll be utilized as a slot receiver like Devon Smith or Curtis Drake, another converted quarterback.
"I think it will be a quick transition. I played receiver my sophomore year,'' Belton said. "It's just another opportunity to get back to what I do best.''
Belton has only been to Penn State once, for the Blue-White Game. He said he'll make an official visit to University Park sometime in the next couple of weeks, probably Jan. 28.