Penn State football fans aren't the only ones watching to see how the new Nittany Lion football coaching staff goes about recruiting for the quarterback position this year. Other top prospects - like Cedar Cliff High's blue chip tight end Adam Breneman - are keeping an eye on it, as well.
"He's following that,'' Breneman's father, Brian, said. "He certainly has interest in who they are recruiting.''
The Brenemans were given a lot to consider on Saturday's junior day at Penn State. About a fifth of the prospects visiting University Park for the six-hour meet-and-greet and informational session play quarterback for their high school teams and are at least entertaining the notion of continuing to line up under center in college.
Recruits gather at Beaver Stadium during Penn State's junior day.
Among the signal-callers on hand were Ashburn, Va., Stone Bridge's Ryan Burns, Fork Union, Va., Military Academy's Christian Hackenberg, Brookfield, Conn.'s Boeing Brown, Plantation, Fla., American Heritage's Tyler Cogswell, Cathedral Prep's Damion Terry, Mentor, Ohio's Mitch Trubisky, McKeesport's Ed Stockett, Methacton's Brandon Bossard and Philadelphia Roman Catholic's Mike Keir.
"It was a really good group,'' said Cory James, who helps cover football recruiting for FightOnState.com.
Brown, Burns, Cogswell and Hackenberg are considered more traditional pocket passers, while Terry and Trubisky would be more comfortable in some kind of read-option offense where they can run more often.
Hackenberg and Burns are the only quarterbacks with Penn State scholarship offers, so far.
"I think they want a guy that's a passing quarterback first. I think that's their ideal No. 1 quarterback. Some mobility is good, but that's not a requirement. Burns and Hackenberg both fit that,'' James said. "What remains to be seen is whether Penn State plans to take one quarterback or two quarterbacks [in this recruiting class]. Most of the other quarterbacks, other than Tyler Cogswell and Boeing Brown, are dual-threat quarterbacks that could play other positions or maybe play quarterback in a pinch.''
Burns is a 6-foot-5, 218-pounder who was recruited by the previous coaching staff and has remained interested in the Lions largely because Larry Johnson has stayed on. Originally from Wyoming, Burns threw for 1,800 yards last season and has convinced longtime Stone Bridge coach Mickey Thompson to go away from the single-wing to a more passing-friendly offense.
The ESPN Top 100 player and consensus four-star prospect has seven offers so far. Burns' father said Lions coach Bill O'Brien has made a "very good impression'' on him and his son on junior day.
"He showed us a little video of Tom Brady in the days prior to the Super Bowl. He was critiquing Tom from his footwork, his mechanics, his throwing motion, his hips, his eyes and really showing Ryan what he looks for in a quarterback,'' Bryan Burns said. "I sent Larry Johnson a tape of Ryan at the Elite 11 [quarterback camp]. Coach O'Brien had a chance to look at that, and he literally compared the two styles. He made it clear to Ryan he mirrored [Brady's style]. He even made an off-the-cuff comment about 'You even look like him, now that I see you face to face.'
"He and [new quarterback coach] Charlie Fisher are going to be joined at the hip at least the first couple of years. It was encouraging from our perspective, knowing that Ryan was a pro-style quarterback, knowing Coach O'Brien's experience in the NFL, coupled with Tom Brady, coupled with the New England Patriots. Those are all plusses.''
Hackenberg (6-4, 215) already has other offers from colleges like Alabama, Florida, Miami, South Carolina and Tennessee. He led his team to a state title as a sophomore and threw for 2,200 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior.
Hackenberg's father is a Tamaqua native who played in the Big 33 game before going on to the University of Virginia.
Although Brown, whose family is originally from Daytona Beach, Fla., didn't come away with a scholarship offer on junior day, he said he found the visit to University Park enjoyable and worthwhile.
"I am very interested in Penn State and could see myself there with pride and excitement. With such a solid group of quarterbacks interested, all of which play in the pro-style offense, we are all appropriate for what they are looking for in a leader,'' said Brown, a 6-4, 218-pounder who has passed for 2,850 yards and 30 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions over the past two years. "Given the two offered players they already have in their first tier, I believe I am in the second tier depending on what they decide and perhaps after a spring camp there, I could move up.''
Brown got to spend part of the day in a group with Hackenberg, Cogswell and Kier.
"It is clear they will be able to draw some of the best talent in the country once again,'' Brown said. "I was humbled, proud and honored to be included with this group of invitees. We all are strong, confident and talented players. I think the assessments must be a challenge and almost a guessing game of which one of us is the better fit for PSU. I do not think you could go too wrong with any one of us.''
Although Terry (6-4, 212) would be closer to Michael Robinson than Kerry Collins in style, he didn't consider the likelihood Penn State would run a pro-set as a deal-breaker. He threw for 1,450 yards and ran for another 314 in a spread option offense as a junior but ran a pro-style offense as a sophomore.
"They are just looking for a quarterback that can come in and lead,'' Terry said. "I think if I went there, they'd transition me to learn what they want me to do.''
Landing a top quarterback will be a big factor in the overall success of Penn State's 2013 recruiting class. If the Lions can bring one aboard, particularly early, it might open the door to attract other star prospects, like Bishop McDevitt all-state receiver Brian Lemelle, who got a scholarship offer last week.
"I would say it does [have an impact on my decision],'' Lemelle said. "I would want me and that quarterback to have that connection, and, being in the same grade, we'll probably play together.''
While getting one elite quarterback in this class is a must, James said that number could change over time, depending on whether or not any of the Lions' current QBs transfer after spring practice.
"It could be a fluid situation,'' James said. "I think it's really important to get somebody if not by the summer, at least by the time the season starts.''