They might have been able to retire on one day’s work, because national letter-of-intent signing day for the Penn State football program was something like taking a fast winter drive on a back road through the Swiss Alps.
The Nittany Lions got some terrific news in national No. 1 prospect Terrelle Pryor’s decision not to sign with Ohio State or Michigan until after he’s made an official visit to University Park. And there was relief when D’Anton Lynn’s letter of intent arrived after the Lions fought off overtures for the Texas defensive back from several high-profile programs in the weeks leading up to signing day.
The high, however, was stunted by Dayton, Ohio, running back Michael Shaw’s mid-day signing with the Wolverines after verbally committing to Penn State in August and highly-rated Virginia receiver Deion Walker’s choice to stick with Notre Dame after some second thoughts favoring the Lions in the final hours. Walker had been considered a Penn State lean until committing to the Irish in January.
There was even apprehension when the LOIs for sleeper line prospects Mike Farrell and Brandon Ware didn’t arrive until late in the day.
Combined with the East Stroudsburg offensive tackle Corey Lewis following through as anticipated by signing with Illinois over Penn State, the Lions were left with just 14 players — including several unfilled scholarships — in its class.
Unless Pryor picks them, the Lions will have brought in only two offensive skill players when most who follow recruiting closely thought they’d want to sign five or six.
‘‘It’s very disappointing in all aspects on offense,’’ said Phil Grosz, publisher of BlueWhite Illustrated and the G&W Recruiting Report. ‘‘In next year’s class, wide receiver has to be the No. 1 priority, and, if they don’t sign Terrelle Pryor, it’s really a downer because they didn’t recruit a quarterback in two years.’’
Grosz said that even before the word of Shaw’s about-face had been confirmed. Shaw was rated the seventh-best running back in the country by Rivals.com and looked to be an ideal complement to already-enrolled recruit Brandon Beachum, a power runner.
‘‘Obviously, it’s frustrating to look at Michael Shaw. He’s a home-run threat,’’ Rivals national recruiting editor Jeremy Crabtree said. ‘‘I think, more than anything, it’s that they lost him to a big rival in the Big Ten that has people talking.’’
Grosz was also concerned about the Lions’ success rate on the offensive line. According to him, Penn State sent out 16 written offers but came up empty on a needed left tackle, barring that Farrell or Michigan’s Deon’tae Pannell, two lower-rated prospects with good upside, develop to fill that void.
However, Crabtree and other recruiting experts were not as down on the Penn State class as might be expected, considering its shortcomings.
‘‘It’s hard to rank it as high as it should be because there are only 14 commitments,’’ PrepStar magazine senior editor Phil Fritz said. ‘‘They got some really good linebackers. The got a couple of good defensive ends, too — both [Pete Massaro and Jack Crawford] have a big upside.’’
Allen Wallace, the national recruiting editor of Scout.com and publisher of SuperPrep magazine, had very high praise for what the Lions’ did manage to bring in.
‘‘They got a lot of bang for the buck,’’ Wallace said. ‘‘They got a lot of people with upside. They have seven SuperPrep All-Americans. The average rating per recruit is exceptionally high.’’
Without Pryor, Penn State’s class is generally being ranked between 30 and 45 nationally. However, that is without taking the number of recruits into consideration. The Lions are ranked 41st by Scout.com, but if you rank on average rating per recruit, they jump all the way to 12th.
The highlights of the class were Lynn, Beachum, tight end Floyd Wedderburn, center/guard Matt Stankiewitch and three linebackers — Michael Mauti, Mike Yancich and Michael Zordich.
‘‘I thought last year’s group [Chris Colasanti, Andrew Dailey and Nathan Stupar] was very good. This one’s better,’’ Scout.com regional scout Bob Lichtenfels said. ‘‘Really, it’s not that bad a class. They probably could have used another defensive back or wideout, but they got a running back, a couple of defensive linemen, some good offensive linemen like Pannell and Stankiewitch, and the linebackers are phenomenal.’’
Holding on to Lynn despite the overtures of Southern Cal and Oklahoma didn’t hurt matters.
‘‘He might be the most important person in this class because of Justin King leaving early,’’ Grosz said.
At least until a certain quarterback from Jeannette decides to buck the odds and take that winding road through the Allegheny Mountains to don blue and white next fall.
‘‘If they could be Pryor,’’ Wallace said, ‘‘that would be the shot heard ’round the world as far as recruiting is concerned.’’
Fact BoxPenn State recruiting class of 2008
Total number of players: 14
Deficiencies: Offensive skill positions, secondary
The impact players: CB D’Anton Lynn
The gems: Lynn, RB Brandon Beachum, LBs Michael Mauti, Mike Yancich and Michael Mauti
The sleeper: DE Jack Crawford
The ones that got away: WR Deion Walker (Notre Dame), RB Michael Shaw (Michigan)
To be continued: QB Terrelle Pryor
Best job of recruiting: Ron Vanderlinden
Most intriguing background: Crawford is from London, England, and originally came to the U.S. to play basketball. Zordich’s and Mauti’s fathers played for Joe Paterno, as did Mark Wedderburn’s older brother. Lynn’s dad is an NFL assistant coach.
Where the class ranks nationally: Rivals.com — 42 (tie). Scout.com — 41. ESPN — Outside the national top 25. Prep Football Report ñ Outside the national top 25. SuperPrep ñ 30. G&W Prep Report ñ Outside the national top 20; fifth in the Big 10. PrepStar — Outside the national top 25.
Next Signing Day: Feb. 4, 2009