By Philip Cmor
Adam Breneman's ability to catch everything in sight -- he hauled in 72 passes for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall -- has made him the most hotly recruited high school tight end in the country.
It is Penn State that has caught Breneman, though.
The Nittany Lions might have landed their biggest recruit since Derrick Williams almost 10 years ago on Friday night when Breneman, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound junior selected first team all-state in 2011, announced at a press conference at Cedar Cliff High School that he planned to sign with Penn State.
Ranked as one of the top 30 prospects in the country by every major recruiting service, Breneman had 38 BCS-level scholarship offers at the time he gave his verbal commitment. He picked Penn State over Ohio State, Notre Dame and Maryland.
"It's really, really Coach [Bill] O'Brien," Breneman said as the primary reason he picked the Lions. "I think very highly of Coach O'Brien. I really don't think Penn State could have hired anyone better in the country. Of all the bad stuff that happened at Penn State in the last few months -- what happened was terrible -- but I think this is really the start of the healing process. I think Coach O'Brien was definitely the right guy for the job."
Breneman felt O'Brien, with his experience helping tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski develop into stars with the New England Patriots over the last couple of years, was definitely the right guy to coach him, as well.
"The main part of my decision was how I was going to be used in the offense," Breneman said. "Receiving is my strength as a tight end, and I want to be able to do that in college. I want to be a playmaker. I want to have the ball in my hands. Seeing what Coach O'Brien did in New England with Gronkowski and Hernandez is very attractive.
"Being able to visit there and sit down with him and watch tape of how he used the tight ends in New England is very exciting."
The prospects for what Breneman could do for the Penn State's offense is every bit as exciting for Nittany Lion fans. He'd come to University Park with even more impressive scholastic credentials than those of former Lion and current NFL tight end Andrew Quarless and add another dimension in a scheme that appears will be more friendly to the passing game.
"Breneman is a versatile tight end that can line up all over the field," said Steve Wiltfong, a national analyst for 247Sports. "[He's] a strong route runner with good speed for the position. He can stretch the field and also has soft hands."
A flex tight end at Cedar Cliff -- he's started for the Colts since the first play of his freshman year -- Breneman has been told Penn State plans on using him in a similar way that Hernandez was utilized with the Patriots. Breneman had 60 catches for 863 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore.
"You can coach 35 years like I have and never come across something like this: 6-5, 230 and can run like a wide receiver. No matter where you put him, he's a mismatch for the defense. We play him at about five different positions. He's just a special, special talent." said Cedar Cliff coach Jim Cantafio, who has been involved with big-time recruits before, like former Michigan and NFL quarterback Chad Henne. "As an eighth grader, he started for our ninth grade team and dominated. I said right then and there this kid was going to be a big-time player and be in the NFL someday."
Breneman, whose father, Brian, was a Division III All-American at Delaware Valley, is a hard worker and physically tough, too, according to his coach. Cantafio recalled a 2010 playoff game where he broke 10 tackles on a 70-yard pass play and a similar play against Elizabethtown last season.
"When you watch those plays, you just say to yourself, 'Wow,"' Cantafio said.
Breneman is the fourth player to commit to Penn State for the 2013 recruiting season, joining Virginia quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Ohio cornerback Ross Douglas and New Jersey defensive end Garrett Sickels. All of them are rated at least four stars by at least one of the major recruiting networks.
"I am fired up," Hackenberg said after learning of Breneman's decision. "He is a great player and will create a lot of mismatches, and it is huge for our recruiting class -- Garrett, Ross, Adam, and I will be hitting the recruiting hard. We want to build a top five class for next year.''
It's been a strong start for a program that, as Breneman alluded to, went through so much in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, with the firing and death of legendary coach Joe Paterno and the hiring of O'Brien. Some wondered if the Lions could continue to bring in top prospects in the aftermath, but not all.
"I'm not surprised with the start Penn State has had on the recruiting trail," Wiltfong said. "Anytime you have a coaching change at a major college football program, it always gives that school positive momentum on the recruiting trail.
"Coach O'Brien and his staff have a lot to sell with their resumes on top of the obvious tradition and interest there is regarding Penn State football. Kids are buying into being the ones to help Coach O'Brien get the Nittany Lions back to the top."
Breneman has been playing organized football since he was in fourth grade and grew up watching the Nittany Lions. When it came to picking a college, he said that couldn't be a factor.
"I've been pretty open that I've been a Penn State fan growing up. I've been to a bunch of games," Breneman, who also plays basketball and baseball but is sitting out this hoops season after surgery to repair a torn labrum, said. "During the process, I really tried to separate being a fan of the school and being a player at the school, and I think I did a pretty good job. It was tough, because you grow up idolizing these guys."
Breneman, a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan who wears No. 87 because his favorite player is Brent Celek, realizes that colleges will continue to recruit him, perhaps up until he actually signs his letter-of-intent. However, he doesn't intend to entertain any further recruiting overtures.
"I felt really comfortable about where I wanted to be. I got started with this process fairly early. I've been going through this process for about a year, year and a half now. I visited a lot of places, developed some great relationships. I didn't feel the need to milk it out any further," Breneman said.