It's common for college football programs to invite potential recruits to be guests at home games, but the only time Jordan Kerner attended a Penn State game, he did it as a guest of his father, watching the Nittany Lions beat Syracuse early last season from the Beaver Stadium bleachers.
"If someone would have told me two years ago I'd have a chance to play at Penn State,'' Kerner said, "I wouldn't have believed them.''
Someone can pinch Kerner now.
The fast-rising defensive end prospect from Fairview High School in Erie County will be getting up close and personal with Beaver Stadium a lot in the future. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Kerner on Wednesday morning called Nittany Lion recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary to tell him he was committing to Penn State over Iowa, making him the third member of the Lions' 2011 recruiting class.
"Being close to home helps my friends and family come down and watch me play. I want them to be able to watch me,'' Kerner said. "Distance from home was a big factor.''
Kerner joins Penn Wood defensive end Shawn Oakman and Delaware tight end Kyle Carter in this class. Kerner also had scholarship offers from Maryland, Boston College, Rutgers, West Virginia and Minnesota before he visited University Park for a camp last week to audition before the Nittany Lion coaches.
That's when Penn State offered him, and, essentially, ended the recruiting process for him.
"I've always been more for Penn State, so, when they offered me, I wanted to commit right there,'' Kerner said. "I wanted to commit right there, but I thought I should take a week [just to be sure].''
Kerner was first-team all-District 10 and second-team all-state last year after making 90 tackles and nine sacks for the 6-5 Tigers. He is the first big-time Division I recruit to come out of his high school since offensive lineman Jeff Lewis signed with West Virginia a dozen years ago.
While Kerner was being recruited as a defensive end by all the colleges involved with him, he plays fullback and linebacker at Fairview. He can do that because he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds.
"He has size and speed,'' said Jerry Lightner, who just retired as football coach at Fairview after 11 years but remains the athletic director there and also has a decade's experience as a college coach at Gannon. "He got called up to varsity as a ninth grader to play special teams. He ended up starting at fullback. You could tell he had a chance to be something special.''
Lightner said Kerner, who he remembers as a "gangly kid who took to weightlifting and weightlifting took to him'' in junior high, also carries a GPA in the 3.9 range while taking advanced courses in preparation for an engineering major in college.
"He's pretty gifted. The season before last he was the regional champion in the 200-meter dash. He runs the 100 and 200 and plays the saxophone in the jazz band,'' Lightner said. "He's a well-rounded kid.''
Maryland was the first college to offer Kerner.
"I was really surprised,'' Kerner said.
Kerner also likes to play recreational basketball - he used to be on the team at Fairview - and video games in his spare time. He's been playing football since fifth grade.
"I was trying a bunch of different things to see what I liked: soccer, baseball,'' Kerner said. "I even did swimming.''
An Oakland Raiders fan whose favorite pro players are Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher, Kerner said the Penn State coaches would like to eventually see him play at 260 pounds. He was contacted by Carter when he got his scholarship offer and now is looking to help Carter bring in more recruits for the Lions.
"Now I feel like I am part of the team,'' Kerner said, "so I want to help get the best players we can.''