Of all the games I put down as the most important as a Penn State alum every year, it is always the Ohio State game. Frankly, I can’t stand this football team!! Time and again they always win football games and yet their fan base treats two loss seasons like they finished with only two wins and Chris Spielman treats every great Ohio State play like he’s bored stiff. It was even worse when Terrell Pryor pretty much performed the Decision before LeBron James did during his recruiting process and called Penn State “too country” before he left. Then, starting November 2011, many recruits from Penn State’s potentially awesome 2012 recruiting class pulled from their commitments after former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on multiple allegations of child sexual assault. It was such an understandably horrifying and scarring time for the football program that one thing that wasn’t paid attention to was that five of those decommitments went to Ohio State. Every single one of them were among the 250 best in the country that year, according to rivals.com and one of them could have been the best commitment Penn State would have ever had. Here is a look back at those five players and where they are now.
OT Joey O’Connor
Coming into the summer of 2011, O’Connor was among the first recruits that committed to Penn State. Despite playing in a not-so-football rich state like Colorado, O’Connor’s video tape looked like one that made you think of how ridiculous of a competitor he was. Envisioning him with Donovan Smith had the makings of something very scary for years to come. He had the look too: half-Joe Swanson, half-Kevin James. Sadly, knee injuries would go on to ruin any hope of O’Connor getting any shot at playing for Ohio State. He would transfer near his hometown in Colorado State in January 2013 and then put an end to his football career after the injuries were too much less than a year later.
DT Tommy Schutt
Like O’Connor, Schutt came from a non-football region in the Chicago suburbs. When watching his highlight reel, there was nothing spectacular about him, other than that he was just an enormous human being that wouldn’t be denied!!! It was essentially the high school football equivalent of watching toddlers get run over by a sumo wrestler, and I mean that as a compliment. Envisioning him in a top tier weight room, “top of the line dining halls” and coaching from the best in college football in Larry Johnson Sr. and who knows how scary Schutt would have been! His recruiting process came at the same time Jared Odrick became a first round pick from the Miami Dolphins and Devon Still began his dominant senior year.
Instead of continuing a more recent tradition of Defensive Tackle U (I know, it doesn’t really role off the tongue as well as Linebacker U) at Penn State, Schutt went to the Nuts instead. So far, he has played 22 career games in Columbus but has only started two of them and missed the first half of last season to a foot injury. He could be in line for a starting position once starter Michael Bennett graduates next season, but this will be his final year of eligibility unless a medical redshirt happens.
LB Camren Williams and CB Armani Reeves
Like Schutt, Williams is also serving backup duty as a true junior. There is no way to do Williams’ profile without doing Reeve’s as well because they were teammates and best friends out of high school at Catholic Memorial High School in Boston, Massachusetts. Again, these were two players from traditionally barren football talent pools were being recruited and committing to Penn State, but these weren’t any mediocre New Englanders. Williams was the best player in that region that year and Reeves was not that far behind.
The running narrative from the Penn State fanbase was that Tom Bradley-coached defenses were always a shutdown corner away from becoming the most iconic in college football. Sure, Bradley would develop players like Justin King, Alan Zemaitis and David Macklin during his tenure, but none of them hit that same intimidation factor like a Paul Posluszny, Sean Lee or NaVarro Bowman had at linebacker, or an Odrick, Still or Tamba Hali had along the defensive line. Reeves was supposed to be that guy and now he is Ohio State’s nickel corner as a true junior.
As for Williams, he is second on the depth chart at outside linebacker behind fellow junior Joshua Perry, but among all the players on this list, he looks like the one struggling the most to get a starting spot. Curtis Grant will be graduating, but will that mean that Perry or sophomore Darron Lee move to middle linebacker like Penn State traditionally does, or will another underclassmen that has practiced that specific position move up the depth chart in freshman Raekwon McMillan?
It’s tough to say for Williams, but Reeves definitely seems to have a brighter future ahead of him as he should be able to receive a starting spot next year once Doran Grant graduates.
DE Noah Spence
Of all the five players on this list, Spence’s came to Ohio State with the biggest reputation. He was the consensus number one defensive end of his high school class and a top-fifteen recruit. If he stayed on as a Penn State commit, Spence would have been Joe Paterno’s biggest commitment since Derrick Williams in 2005. Unlike near misses Terrell Pryor [aka Judas] and Jelani Jenkins, Spence felt like a lock to become a Nittany Lion because reports came out how much of a Penn State fan he was ever since he was a little kid. Once the Sandusky scandal broke out, however, that all seemed to change.
Coming out of Bishop McDevitt High School, Penn State was still dealing with the scars of not being able to bring in LeSean McCoy back in 2006. For McCoy, he would initially commit to the University of Miami, but he would never sign there because he needed to attend a post-secondary school in order to improve his academic eligibility. It was rumored that Penn State would be among McCoy’s top choices again if he were to pick Milford Academy, instead of Hargrave Military Academy where Virginia Tech would be the favorite. McCoy would attend Milford, but he would commit to Pittsburgh the following season. The rest is history.
For the exception of Andre Robinson from the 2015 recruiting class, “Bishop McDevitt recruit” and “commits to Penn State” never fitted in the same sentence during the rivals.com era (2002 onwards). To me, this was the biggest proof of Joe Paterno’s struggles to keep in-state recruits from going to rival schools during the latter stages of his coaching tenure, so it was almost his absolute duty to make sure Spence would not follow suit.With all the dust settled, Spence would seem to be another one of those future world class talents that should have come to Penn State and dominated but didn’t. It seemed true at first after Spence received playing time as a true freshman and then led all Ohio State defenders in sacks last season and received second-team All-Big Ten accolades. However, his football career might have hit a massive road block after he was suspended for three games testing positive for ecstasy last January and then indefinitely on the same offense on September 12th. Like Pryor before him, it seems like Spence could leave Ohio State an embarrassment without ever living up to his full potential.
In short, this list proves, time and again, that you can’t project 18-year old kids in which they are only playing 10-15 games of football within their state, one college-sanctioned combine and/or one all-star game per season. The sample size is always too small and the quality of competition is extremely difficult to measure.
Yes, Pennsylvania has this great reputation of developing highly touted recruits of yesteryear, but can anyone name me five or ten at the top of our heads like we could twenty plus years ago? Last time I checked, Penn State was still winning Big Ten titles under Paterno without a whole lot of in-staters. Pryor, Jimmy Clausen, Matt Barkley and Mark Sanchez were the best quarterbacks out of their respective recruiting classes. Why aren’t they tearing it up in the NFL right now? Melvin Aleaze was supposed to be Maryland’s greatest offensive lineman and commitment instead of (wrongfully?) finishing up an eight-year prison sentence. You just don’t know.