If someone were to say Penn State may have gotten a recruiting steal in Jesse James, he won't mind.
He gets stuff like that all the time.
"I hear something every day about my name,'' James said. "The South Fayette announcer last year kept calling me 'The Outlaw.'''
This Jesse James, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound tight end from South Allegheny High School, will be in University Park for the next few years but he doesn't intend to be hiding out after making a verbal commitment to the Nittany Lions on Monday morning. He's Penn State's fourth recruit for the class of 2012 and the third to pledge in four days.
"I knew that's where I was going to end up,'' James said on his reasons for committing so early. "I love the coaching staff, the facilities and the campus.''
James said Penn State's kinesiology program also played into his decision to commit. His visit to Penn State over the weekend for a junior day was his fourth to University Park.
James picked Penn State over Toledo, Liberty, Maryland and Pitt, which was looking at James for defense. After somehow flying under the radar, even at his size, he was just starting to draw attention from larger schools, like Connecticut, Michigan, Nebraska, LSU and Notre Dame, according to South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe.
"Jesse really started to develop between his sophomore and junior seasons. He grew about 4 inches,'' Monroe said. "He's a great natural athlete. Now, he has contacts all over the country. Penn State did a good job, as did Pitt. We haven't been as successful team-wise, and that probably held back some interest. But [Nittany Lion assistant] Tom Bradley is able to know a kid and know his potential.''
As a junior, James caught 34 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns. He also led the Gladiators with 52 tackles as a defensive end and had eight sacks. The best way to describe how Monroe uses James is as an even bigger version of graduating Penn State receiver/flex-tight end Brett Brackett.
"It's hard to hide a 6-8 guy in high school, but we put him out wide, and he caught balls. We put him in motion,'' Monroe said. He's got the ability to go across the middle and make the catch or to go high for the ball. He's been blessed.''
While there's been some speculation that James might grow into an offensive tackle, he said his discussions with the Penn State coaches have focused squarely on him playing tight end.
"They don't think of me redshirting. I'm thinking of graduating early so I can enroll at Penn State early. I'm hoping to play my freshman year,'' said James, who joined DeMatha's Brent Wilkerson as tight ends to commit for this recruiting class, with the possibility the Lions may try to sign a third as well.
Ironically, although he always liked the sport, James wasn't planning to play football in high school until his coach told his parents to get him a physical and get him out for the team.
"I was going to focus on wrestling,'' said James, who is friends with another Penn State recruiting target, Fox Chapel lineman Adam Bisnowaty, through wrestling. "Now, I'm focused on football. I didn't even wrestle last year. I played basketball and averaged a double-double.''