On Signing Day 2012, Stan Hixon and his fellow Penn State football assistant coaches talked about having an increased recruiting presence in the neighboring prospect hotbed of Ohio.
The Nittany Lions have made a fast impact there both in terms of the quickness with which their efforts reaped rewards and the player they landed last week, four-star cornerback Ross Douglas of Avon High School near Cleveland.
"Ross is blessed with tremendous speed,'' Avon coach Mike Elder said. "I think he's going to be special. He could be all-conference or All-American.''
Five-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Douglas has been timed in the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, but he also possessed the ability to maintain his speed while changing directions, posting a 4.1 20-yard shuttle time.
It seems like speed isn't just something that applies to Douglas on the football field, either. Penn State called him during the week leading up to its Feb. 18 junior day to invite him up, then offered him while he was on campus. He committed 11 days later, just hours after Virginia quarterback Christian Hackenberg to become the second member of the Lions' 2013 recruiting class, choosing Penn State over Michigan, Tennessee and Louisville.
He's also getting a jump on his college football career by enrolling in January.
"Penn State was the best fit for me athletically and academically,'' said Douglas, who returned to University Park with his parents over the weekend. "The junior day really sold it to me, because I got to see everything, all the behind-the-scenes things like the academics. I got to talk to the academic advisors. I got to talk to the defensive coordinator. I got to talk to the DB coach, and I got to talk to the recruiting coordinator. They rolled out the red carpet for me.''
At first a reluctant football player because he didn't like the contact when his father made him try the sport at the age of 7, Douglas has blossomed at Avon, starting since he was a freshman.
Last season, Douglas actually made third team all-state on the offensive side of the ball after averaging 5.8 yards per carry and piling up 1,019 yards. On the defensive side, he had 37 tackles, an interception and seven pass breakups.
The Eagles were 13-2, falling to Trotwood-Madison in the state championship game.
"He's a lockdown kid who loves to get in the receiver's face,'' Elder said.
In that regard, Douglas is as much a departure from the type of corner Penn State used to recruit for its cover-3 defense as he is for the area from which he hails. Although a diehard Baltimore Ravens fan, Douglas tries to emulate Cleveland Browns corner Joe Haden, and his favorite player of all-time is Deion Sanders.
"I like to cover. I love to cover the top wide receivers, because I love the competition,'' Douglas said. "If the other team has a good wide receiver, I want to cover him. That's what I bring to the table. I'm confident in what I do.''
In the past, that wouldn't have fit at Penn State, though. Now, however, under defensive coordinator Ted Roof, Douglas and 2012 signee Da'Quan Davis are ideal for the ultra-aggressive, attacking approach. Douglas has played a variety of coverages for Avon, but predominantly was on an island.
"They liked how fast I was and how tough I was. They just liked the way I played. I have a good chance to play early at Penn State if I come in and compete,'' Douglas said. "Coach Roof was the defensive coordinator at Auburn last year. I've been watching tapes of Auburn, and they did play a lot of man-to-man, more than Penn State. We're going to be playing mostly man-to-man.''
Douglas grew up a Georgia fan because his brother was being recruiting by the Bulldogs for track and he was blown away on a visit to Athens. However, now he's trying to help Penn State turn its foothold in Ohio into a full-fledged beachhead.
"I'm in touch with some guys,'' Douglas said. "I'm recruiting inside of Ohio and outside of Ohio. Me and Christian Hackenberg are working on a few guys who want to come. I've been talking to [defensive end] Tracy Sprinkle from Elyria, because he's from the same county as me. He likes Penn State, and we're going to try to get him up on a visit. One of my good friends is [safety] Darron Lee of New Albany. I just told Coach Butler about him. He's going to watch his tape.''
Since Douglas and Hackenberg have committed, four-star New Jersey defensive end Garrett Sickels has given a pledge to the Lions, and five-star tight end Adam Breneman of Cedar Cliff is due to choose from among Penn State, Ohio State, Maryland and Notre Dame on Friday night. Douglas is happy with how this class is taking shape.
"Whenever you start a class with three four-star commits and hopefully a five-star in Breneman, it's great. Hopefully, he commits,'' Douglas said.