The challenge for the old Penn State football coaching staff was putting a good 2012 recruiting class together.
The challenge of the new one is keeping it together.
The Nittany Lions are taking a big step forward in the effort to do that this weekend: Eleven of the 14 players who still are verbally committed to them are visiting University Park from Friday through Sunday.
Undecided four-star safety De'metrious Cox, considered by some to be leaning toward picking Penn State before the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal broke and longtime Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno was fired, is on hand, too.
"This weekend is the first priority of the new staff. As [new coach] Bill O'Brien said, they are looking to lock down the guys that have already committed,'' said Sean Fitz, who follows Penn State football recruiting for Lions247.com. "Obviously, it's very, very important for them just to have the base of that class and get the guys back on board, back into the fold and just cut their recruitment off.
"It's huge. If they don't secure these guys, they don't have a lot of time to work [to find replacements].''
O'Brien is supposed to be on campus to meet with the recruits on Sunday morning at the conclusion of their visit.
Before Paterno was fired, Penn State was well on its way to a highly rated recruiting class, having filled 17 of approximately 23 available scholarships with a group that included a number of four-star players and being high on the list of Cox and consensus No. 1 national defensive end prospect Noah Spence, among others. However, in the last two months, Illinois defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, Colorado offensive lineman Joey O'Connor and Pittsburgh tight end J.P. Holtz decommitted, and Spence picked Ohio State, as did Schutt.
Several other players that still are committed to Penn State, like Camren Williams and Armani Reeves of Massachusetts, Brent Wilkerson of Maryland and Malik Golden of Connecticut, have or are scheduled to visit other colleges.
In interviews with various recruiting sites, Penn State recruits said this week that O'Brien has been in contact with them.
"There's excitement, but it's kind of tempered excitement because they have to forge relationships with these coaches so soon and they have to make sure they fit into what these new coaches are trying to do,'' Fitz said. "But, there's a lot of excitement. Obviously, with [O'Brien] coming over from the Patriots, he's got a reputation. Defensively, most of the guys in the class are linemen or linebackers, so they know Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden are there.''
Southern New Jersey defensive tackle Jamil Pollard recommitted to Penn State even before O'Brien was hired and has had glowing praise for the new staff in interviews. Linemen Austin Johnson, Derek Dowrey, Brian Gaia and Anthony Stanko appear firmly in the fold, too, and tight end Jesse James already is enrolled.
In addition to Cox, who looks like he might be down to Penn State, Michigan State and Pitt, the key commits the staff most needs to reassure are Philadelphia quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and Golden.
"Those are the two I'm definitely watching the closest. Keeping those two would go a long way in solidifying the class. The other guys seem solid,'' Fitz said. "Honestly, if you would have asked me Wednesday, I would have said that I thought Golden committed to Iowa already or maybe was in the process of doing so. He was not really happy that [assistant coach] Kermit Buggs was not retained. He wasn't really happy when the entire scandal came out. Penn State has a lot of work to do to keep him.''
Reeves and Williams, both four-star prospects from the same high school, also are in limbo with the dismissal of their recruiting coach, Bill Kenney, and also are pivotal. Williams helped spearhead Penn State's early recruiting surge by contacting many of the Lions' targets himself.
Williams now is considering Ohio State, while Reeves is looking at the Buckeyes and Michigan - he's visiting Ann Arbor this weekend. The duo is slated to make their official visits to Penn State last, on the weekend of Jan. 27.
"They still really like Penn State,'' Fitz said. "Honestly, I like Penn State's chances a lot better than the others, because I know they do want to go to school together. One door could close at Ohio State which could close the door on the other one. It's up in the air right now, but, if things go well on their visit, I expect them to stick by Penn State.''