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Star-studded cast coming to Penn State for junior day

February 18, 2012
By Philip Cmor ( , The Altoona Mirror

Ryan Switzer talked to new Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien on the phone Thursday morning, but today Switzer gets to meet the man himself.

"He introduced himself, explained how they would use me and said we'd talk at the junior day,'' said Switzer, who was named the Gatorade player of the year in West Virginia and was an honorable mention Sports Illustrated All-American after piling up more than 3,000 all-purpose yards and scoring 45 touchdowns for Class AAA state runner-up George Washington High School as a junior last fall. "I'm looking forward to that.''

Switzer isn't the only one. He'll be part of a group of approximately 50 2013 prospects -- many of them top names -- who'll be in University Park today as the Nittany Lions new staff puts its recruiting foot forward in a big way for the first time at a semi-annual event called a "junior day.''

It's also got Penn State fans amped up. Since recruiting coverage really took off in a big way in the last decade, the Nittany Lions have never had a junior day as big or as star-filled as this one.

"This list [of players expected to attend] keeps growing, and it's just adding to the excitement. The names that are coming out are quality names,'' said Sean Fitz, who oversees the Lions247 website and focuses on football and football recruiting. "For the most part, you go down the list and, from top to bottom, it's a very solid list. There's a lot of different areas being represented. There's a lot of different positions being represented.

"They're just all over the map, and that's a good thing for a staff that's going to have to work as hard as they have to.''

Fact Box

Junior day dandies

Penn State is expected to have around 50 junior prospects on campus today for its first junior day under the new coaching staff. Here are eight names to remember:

n Alex Anzalone, LB, Wyomissing: Already a four-star prospect, this 6-foot-2, 220-pound all-state will probably add a Penn State offer to the throng he already has, including those from Ohio State, Alabama and Florida.

n Rod Crayton, DT, Dadeville, Ala.: Proof positive that the new staff will work the South, Larry Johnson will try to entice this 295-pounder to spurn the likes of LSU to play in the Big Ten.

n Reon Dawson, CB, Trotwood, Ohio: Penn State still is looking for secondary help in the Class of 2013, and Dodson's 4.4 speed would be welcome there.

n Robert Foster, WR, Monaca: Might be tough to sway away from Urban Meyer but figures to be one of the top big receivers in the country this year.

n Christian Hackenberg, QB, Fork Union, Va.: One of a huge list of signal-callers on campus today, this eastern Pa. transplant has the size (6-4) and a big arm.

n Deveon Smith, RB, Warren, Ohio: His state hasn't been very kind to the Nittany Lions recruiting-wise, but this 200-pounder, who ran behind 2012 PSU recruit Anthony Stanko, might be one of those rare Ohio prospects who doesn't dream of being a Buckeye.

n Garrett Sickels, DE, Red Bank, N.J.: There'll be a lot of New Jersey talent in Happy Valley today, and this 6-4, 225-pounder with offers from Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Notre Dame and Oklahoma is among the most heavily recruited.

n David Williams, RB, Philadelphia: His highlight tape is jaw-dropping, and his nearly 10-yard-per-carry rushing average has made this complete back a recruiting priority from colleges coast to coast.

Players are coming from as far away as Alabama and Florida. At least 10 quarterbacks are on the list, some of them, like Virginia's pair of four-stars, Ryan Burns and Christian Hackenberg, already familiar names to Lion recruiting followers. The gathering also has attracted perhaps the best four offensive linemen from New Jersey, a state through which some of Joe Paterno's top teams fattened up their roster but hasn't been so kind on the Lions lately.

Switzer is one of about a dozen players in today's group already claiming a scholarship offer from the Lions. He's already been to similar affairs at Ohio State and West Virginia and is heading to Wake Forest next weekend. He expects a four-to-six-hour day that includes tours of the campus, meetings with the staff and an introduction to the academic environment. Fitz also wrote on his website that there'll be question-and-answer sessions with current players, but THON is not on the itinerary, although there's nothing stopping the visitors from checking it out.

"For me, it's exciting. It's just exciting being around the programs,'' Switzer said. "But, it's almost something you have to do. You've got to get familiar with the coaching stuff. You've got to know the differences between the schools. It's something you can enjoy, but it's something you need to do.''

Things actually kicked off early. Cedar Cliff's Adam Breneman, currently considered the top tight end prospect in the country, went to Penn State on Friday and got some alone time with the staff.

"We actually were going to visit Penn State late in February. We were visiting Ohio State on Friday. We flip-flopped our dates. Adam wanted to meet the new staff, but he's been to Penn State three or four times already. We felt junior day would be repetitive,'' said Breneman's father, Brian, who is handling some of his son's interview requests for the time being to give him a reprieve from a frenzy that has included 33 scholarship offers. "He was with Coach O'Brien just in the last week or so. They met for a little bit at the basketball game with Wisconsin. He's been very impressed with Coach O'Brien.''

Brian Breneman said his son has been told by O'Brien he envisions using him like his former team, the New England Patriots, utilized Aaron Hernandez should the young tight end pick the Nittany Lions.

Although Switzer rushed for 2,796 yards and 40 TDs as a high school junior, the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder is destined to switch to receiver in college and often gets compared to a Patriot player, too.

"He [O'Brien] mentioned a lot of Wes Welker,'' Switzer said. "He mentioned using me at wideout, using me at running back. He said I'd be able to return punts and kicks.''

The junior day also gives some of the players chances to link up with possible future teammates. Switzer already chats online with Breneman, as well as incoming Lion freshmen Steven Bench and Da'Quan Davis. Breneman also has struck up a friendship with Bench and Burns and knows a couple of other junior day visitors from the Harrisburg area, Central Dauphin linebacker Zayd Issah and Bishop McDevitt receiver Brian Lemelle.

Fitz expects Penn State's scholarship offer count to increase this weekend.

"There's guys coming in that are obviously very high on their board. Like the old staff, it means more when you offer in person. You look at a guy like [Wyomissing linebacker] Alex Anzalone, who they've been holding out on, and, all of a sudden, he picks up offers from Florida and Ohio State and South Carolina and West Virginia. There are guys I think they want to offer, but they just want to put that personal touch,'' Fitz said.

Switzer and Breneman are two prospects that Lion fans have been hoping might commit early to start some recruiting momentum. While that could happen, Fitz isn't expecting anything just yet.

"This is just more of a meet-and greet to get to know the new staff. They haven't been on the job that long to forge the kind of relationship you would need for a kid to commit,'' Fitz said. "Plus, with everything hanging over Penn State right now, I think people want to see a little more about Penn State before they pull the trigger.''

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