Maybe the best thing that happened to Brendan Mahon when it comes to football is he didn't take up the sport until the ninth grade.
Mahon weighed too much to be allowed to play when he was in grade school. Instead, he took up soccer, which let him develop his agility and footwork.
"He has some athletic ability,'' said Mahon's football coach, Joe Lusardi. "Usually when you have a kid at that weight, they can't run, they can't move. The thing with Brendan is he's tall, he's athletic and he has good footspeed. Once you see that, you know you've got something special.''
It's that ability that lured big-time college coaches from coast to coast to Randolph High School in New Jersey to offer the 6-foot-4 1/2, 315-pound offensive lineman scholarships, like Oregon, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, UCLA, North Carolina, Miami, South Carolina and Michigan.
Mahon, though, saw something special in Penn State and verbally committed to his longtime favorite school on Saturday during an unofficial visit to University Park with his parents.
"The first thing you see when you get off Route 80 and come off of that highway and go over the hill is that stadium. That's a great start to your visit every time you get there. One hundred and 10 thousand people, you can't ask for anything better than that,'' Mahon said. "On Saturday, we were walking around campus, and we went in a restaurant, and all you saw were pictures of Penn State football everywhere, Beaver Stadium and JoePa.
"I always dreamed of growing up in a small, southern town where everything is devoted to the football team. I don't have that in my hometown, and I think this change to Penn State is what I want, and it's something I'm looking forward to.''
Rated the 190th-best prospect in the country by Rivals.com, Mahon said he wanted to stay close to home, so Rutgers, Boston College, UConn and West Virginia were the other colleges getting his hardest looks. He is the fifth member of the Lions' 2013 recruiting class and the first offensive lineman; he projects as a guard in college, although he plays right tackle at Randolph.
John Strollo headed up Mahon's recruitment for Penn State. Mahon said the coaching staff was a huge factor in his decision to join the Nittany Lions.
"The new strength and conditioning coach is a great guy. He really pushes all the athletes, and I like the enthusiasm. I can see myself developing with him,'' Mahon said. "Coach McWhorter, the offensive line coach, is a great guy with tons of experience. It meant a big deal to me to know that he had sent so many people to the [NFL]. It's crazy.''
Mahon's reputation has skyrocketed since he stepped off the Randolph freshman team and right into the starting lineup of a Ram team that won the New Jersey state championship at the Meadowlands two years ago. And, while his quickness at his size has set him apart from other big men, Mahon's strength as a run-blocker in Lusardi's ground-and-pound wing-T offense is nothing to sneeze at, either.
"In the state championship game, he took the kid that he was blocking and pushed him all the way back into the defensive secondary,'' Lusardi, who often has Mahon pulling or trapping, said. "It was a real battle. The kid he was blocking was a scholarship kid, also, but that kid was a senior.''
Mahon has bench pressed 350 pounds five times and turned heads at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl combine in San Antonio. However, he has to laugh when he thinks back to his days as a defender and goalkeeper in soccer a few years ago.
"I was the little intimidator in the back,'' Mahon said with a laugh. "Sometimes, when I played goalie, I [tackled opponents]. Once I'd get moving, I couldn't stop it, and I'd run over kids.''
Mahon also played basketball growing up but gave it up to focus on training for football, the sport he said he always wanted to play but couldn't when he was younger because he was too big.
Although it was speculated that Mahon might commit during his weekend visit, he said that wasn't really part of the plan. He told recruiting analysts that he planned to see more colleges after Penn State. However, previous Lion commits like Adam Breneman, Christian Hackenberg and friend and fellow New Jersey recruit Garrett Sickels were pushing him to change his mind. Interestingly, one of Lusardi's assistant coaches, Bob Moilan, is married to the sister of Breneman's coach at Cedar Cliff, Jim Cantafio.
Now Mahon plans to join the other Lion verbals in recruiting other prospects.
"I could pull in another offensive tackle. I want to be the best and win national championships, and we're going to do that at Penn State,'' Mahon said. "We need some offensive tackles. I believe I am the only or one of the few interior linemen that's going to be taken.''
Mahon thinks that once they see Penn State, the school and program will sell itself. It did for him.
"Penn State: You love it,'' Mahon said, "and I always have.''