Standing 6 feet, 6 inches tall and tipping the scales at anywhere from 268 to 292 pounds, depending on who you ask, Belle Vernon High School rising senior football player Dorian Johnson undeniably is a very large young man.
Getting him to commit early last week might loom much larger for Penn State and first-year football coach Bill O'Brien for a number of reasons.
"Just for getting a western Pa. kid and one of the top guys, it's big for Bill O'Brien and what he's trying to build there,'' said Bob Lichtenfels, a western Pennsylvania native and former lineman himself who covers recruiting throughout the Northeast for Scout.com. "When you lose a guy like [longtime Nittany Lion assistant coach] Tom Bradley who was so connected in western Pa., I think it speaks highly for them to come in and recruit in that area.''
Just days after the Jerry Sandusky verdict came down, the Lions managed to get a player ranked in the top 30 in the country by ESPN at a position of great need following a June 23 unofficial visit. Among the other colleges with which they had to contend were Alabama, Ohio State with Urban Meyer, Notre Dame, where his cousin, Scott Booker, is an assistant coach, Pitt, where new coach Paul Chryst is considered an offensive line guru and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph is a Belle Vernon native, and West Virginia, which is within easy driving distance of his home, too.
"It was like dominoes. I was already liking Penn State, and then that visit kind of just sealed the deal,'' Johnson, who could not be reached by the Mirror, said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Everything fell into place. I was impressed with the facilities, I like the coaches, and I like the direction the program is going to be headed.''
Johnson took that visit with his mother, Lisa Cotton, and grandmother, Jackie Johnson, who, reportedly, were a major influence on where he would go to college. Before that, Johnson was believed to have Pitt as his leader, largely based on its distance from his family.
"When I did speak to them on [June 23, after the visit], the general consensus from the family was that Penn State was the school they liked the most,'' Belle Vernon coach Aaron Krepps said.
"I told them on the ride home, 'This is where I want to be,''' Johnson told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. "I was comfortable with both schools and their coaching staffs. I like Penn State's campus and felt like I would get a good education. You're playing big-time football.''
According to the scouts and coaches, Johnson has all the tools to be a big-time player at that level.
"Some kids you look at in high school, and you see them as good, but you know he's going to be better in college,'' Lichtenfels said. "He's highly projectable. He's very athletic. He doesn't dominate every game, but he's so nimble and quick on his feet, when he gets into college and is focused just on football, he's going to excel.
"He's got a very high ceiling.''
According to the Tribune-Review, Johnson bench presses 365 pounds and squats 490, but he also has been timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.88 seconds. Johnson has been among the top shot putters in the WPIAL the last two years, as well, throwing nearly 50 feet.
That combination of size, strength and agility has scouts pegging him as a college left tackle, a position Penn State found difficult to recruit under the former staff but figures to be crucial in what figures to be a Lion offense hinging more than ever on passing and pass protection now that O'Brien is at the helm.
At Belle Vernon, Johnson played right tackle. The Leopards made the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs featuring an offense that averaged more than 5 yards per rushing attempt. Johnson made the Big Eight Conference first team on both sides of the football.
"There's a lot to like: his size, his speed, his athletic ability, his flexibility, long arms,'' Krepps said. "You have all the attributes you are looking for in a Division I left tackle. That was the feeling I received from pretty much every school we spoke with.''
Johnson will be starting for the third year this fall. Krepps said he knew early on he had a probable Division I prospect, but it wasn't until January that he found out how big-time Johnson was.
"It seemed like he was picking up offers every day,'' Krepps said. "It started to roll and, within two weeks, it was a snowball rolling down a hill. It was crazy, the amount of attention and interest that his film got him right out of the gate.''
Krepps said Johnson's target for making a college choice was early July. The irony is that his visit with his mother and grandmother to University Park came mere hours after Sandusky, the former Nittany Lion defensive coordinator, was found guilty on 46 counts related to child sexual abuse, and Centre County was still buzzing in the aftermath.
Johnson and his family, though, still felt Penn State was the place for him - he told his local media he liked the direction of the program under the new staff.
"I didn't even think about [the Sandusky case]. I don't think it has anything to do with the program now,'' Johnson said.