College recruiter: Joe Paterno is 81 years old, and he isn't able to relate to young players anymore.
High school player: But Penn State has had a lot of success.
Recruiter: Yeah, but Paterno is in the last year of his contract. There's no telling how much longer he'll be there or what kind of coach the university will replace him with.
Negative recruiting does occur in college football, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to know that discussions similar to the one above do take place between coaches from other schools and recruits.
They may not be as common, however, as some people think.
There's a feeling among some Penn State faithful that most schools bring up Paterno's age in an attempt to dissuade recruits from choosing the Nittany Lions.
It should come as good news, then, that some of Penn State's top commitments in the 2008 class said no schools mentioned Paterno's age throughout the recruiting process.
''None. Not one. Nobody,'' said offensive lineman Matt Stankiewitch from Schuylkill Haven, rated as a four-star recruit by scout.com.
''None,'' four-star linebacker Michael Zordich from Youngstown, Ohio, said. ''I didn't hear from any coaches saying anything bad about Joe Paterno, saying he was old or anything.''
''None of them,'' three-star defensive lineman Pete Massaro from Newtown Square said.
The players, interviewed at the Big 33 Football Classic, were asked to be as honest as possible about the details of their talks with other schools. Some of them expected to hear negatives about Paterno, but it never happened.
''l looked for that going into recruiting when I narrowed everything down, and nobody said anything about Joe's age,'' Zordich said. ''I think that's because coaches respect him, and they should because he's been around so long and he's a great coach.''
Still, some schools hold little back during the recruiting wars and do play the Paterno age card.
''In my top five, three of the [schools] mentioned it,'' four-star linebacker Mike Yancich from Washington, Pa., said.
In what way?
''They mentioned coaching stability,'' Yancich continued. ''They do mention it for recruiting purposes because they don't quite have the stature and the popularity that Penn State has, so they have to use that against them.''
Yancich would not disclose which three schools used the negative tactics. The others in his top five reportedly were Pitt, Michigan State, West Virginia and Connecticut.
''It's going to be the big-time schools because they're the ones that's after these elite kids,'' Gateway High School head coach and former Nittany Lion receiver Terry Smith said.
Smith saw first-hand how some schools try to use Paterno's age against Penn State when his stepson, Justin King, was one of the nation's top recruits in 2004.
''He heard it,'' Smith said. ''Teams start to pull out everything that they have in their arsenal.''
What do recruiters say?
''The big thing they're saying is, 'How would you relate to [Paterno]?' and 'Will he be there?''' Smith said.
Not all schools, but ''the majority of them'' tried that tactic with King, Smith said. It didn't work in that case.
''He looked at it,'' Smith noted. ''But for him, he felt it was still the best decision at the time to go to Penn State.''
Few, if any, recruiting insiders have as much contact with PSU recruits as fightonstate.com's Cory James, who said he talks to each kid about 10 times throughout the process. He feels them out to get as good of a read as possible on which way they may be leaning and learns what other schools are saying, too.
''Some guys say [the negative recruiting] happens a lot, and some guys say it doesn't happen at all,'' said James, an Altoona native and 2000 graduate of Bishop Guilfoyle High School.
''It kind of depends on who's recruiting them. I think it's probably pretty much certain schools, although I don't know what schools they would be. Nobody names names or anything like that.''
It may be assumed Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan, among others, practice negative recruiting with regards to Paterno, but that hasn't been proven.
Zordich chose Penn State over Ohio State, so if it's true he heard no criticism from anyone about Paterno, that would mean the Buckeyes didn't stoop to negative recruiting. At least with him.
Of course, Zordich's father played at Penn State, so Ohio State may have taken the family tie into consideration and changed its approach.
Stankiewitch's other finalists included Pitt and West Virginia, while Massaro's finalists included Boston College and Georgia Tech. Those schools apparently are off the hook for negative recruiting, in these particular cases anyway.
Stankiewitch, it should be noted, committed to PSU early, so he may not have faced the same crunch-time discussions as other recruits.
One tactic used by some schools, James noted, is a subtle, beat-around-the-bush way of getting a dig in at Penn State and Paterno without actually saying anything negative.
''They may not in all cases say, 'Hey, Penn State has Joe Paterno, who's kind of up there and his contract situation is unclear,''' James said. ''But they may really emphasize the fact that their coach has been there, had success and will be there in the future. They're like under their breath showing what Penn State doesn't have to offer.''
When recruits start paring their lengthy list of suitors down to the top five, James said, ''That's whenever [the negative talk] happens.''
But not always.
''I didn't get any of that,'' Massaro said, ''not at the schools I visited, which I really respect.''
Yancich did experience negative recruiting from other schools, but it didn't work for one simple reason.
''Ultimately,'' he said, ''it came down to: It's Joe Paterno. Why wouldn't you want to play for Joe Paterno, even if it was for one year?''
Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.