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Lions get jump on top prospects

2011 look-ahead

February 7, 2010
By Philip Cmor,

One's trademark is catching the football, the other's is stopping people from catching them.

Oil City 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end Ben Koyack and Pottsgrove 5-11, 177-pound defensive back Terrell Chestnut don't have a lot in common, but they'll both be focal points as the Penn State football coaching staff transitions from wrapping up its 2010 and begin looking ahead to 2011.

Koyack and Chestnut might be the top two high school junior prospects in Pennsylvania right now and are on the short list of players that have already received scholarship offers to be part of what should be a small Lion recruiting class next year.

"It will be a slower process than this year,'' recruiting analyst Cory James, who is looking at Penn State to sign 13-15 recruits in 2011, said. "They're going to try to get the cream of the crop. It will take time to recruit those kinds of players, usually.''

Koyack and Chestnut definitely fit that mold.

Koyack is regarded as the best tight end prospect to come through the commonwealth in years. A converted quarterback, Koyack has hauled in 89 passes for 1,548 yards and 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons - and that's even having missed the last four games of 2009.

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Oil City coach Matt LaVerde is being deluged by colleges interested in Koyack, who is believed to be favoring Penn State and Ohio State early.

"Too many to count. There's a ton. Schools that have been to Oil City are Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Iowa, Pitt, Rutgers, West Virginia. Florida has not been to school, but they've called. USC and Oregon have called. So has Oklahoma,'' LaVerde said.

Miami is also in the mix.

LaVerde, who has experience with top tight ends after having coached Pitt's Nate Byham at Franklin, said Koyack's athletic ability sets him apart. He said Koyack ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds at West Virginia's camp and was the starting shortstop on the Oiler baseball team as a freshman before switching to track, where he made the state championships in the javelin.

Chestnut burst onto the scene even earlier than did Koyack, picking up first-team all-state honors after intercepting nine passes his freshman year. He hasn't had a chance to repeat the feat.

"Last year, I don't know how many times other teams threw at him, but we're a man-coverage team, and it wasn't too many,'' Pottsgrove coach Rick Pennypacker said. "He breaks on the ball, he hits people. People see his highlight tape and go, 'Wow!' He's just a tremendous football player.''

Chestnut also rushed for 995 yards as a quarterback, but Penn State is pursuing him as a cornerback. Strong academically, Chestnut, like Koyack, is expected to receive national recruiting interest, although Pennypacker thinks the odds he'll stay in the northeast are strong.

Chestnut isn't the only Pottsgrove player at whom the Nittany Lions are looking. They've already extended a scholarship offer to strong safety/linebacker Maika Polamalu, the son of Penn State product Al Pola and cousin of Pittsburgh Steeler All-Pro Troy Polamalu and are intrigued by fullback/defensive end Kayvon Greene.

The limited number of scholarships the Lions have to offer might stand in the way of landing all three of Pennypacker's stars, though. BlueWhite Illustrated publisher Phil Grosz thinks Penn State is probably looking at a class of around 15-16, of which three or four will be in the secondary.

"They've got to get a couple of linebackers. I think they need a super running back and another tight end. Of course, you always have to balance the offensive and defensive linemen,'' Grosz said. "I think they have to take two defensive tackles.''

One of those - and one of the players Grosz thinks Penn State might have the best chance to get to commit quickly - is Washington, D.C's Kevin McReynolds, although McReynolds is not believed to have received a scholarship offer yet. Other players that are claiming Lion offers are West Allegheny linebacker/safety Mike Caputo, middle linebackers Travis Hughes of Virginia Beach and Lawrence Thomas of Detroit and 6-6 290-pound offensive tackle Jay Whitmire of Alexandria, Va., T.C. Williams, where Penn State assistant Larry Johnson was once the coach.

Lineman Anthony Mangiro, running back Savon Huggins and safety Sheldon Royster - all from New Jersey - probably won't have to wait long to receive their official offers; Huggins and Royster are teammates at St. Peter's Prep. The same can be said for Bishop McDevitt tailback Jameel Poteat.

The Lions probably will not recruit a quarterback next year and only a maximum of one wide receiver. At the latter position, keep an eye on Virginia's 6-3 Melvin Robinson; he's the cousin of Lion freshman defensive back Stephon Morris.

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