When Colorado high school offensive lineman Joey O'Connor sent out game tape all over the country before his junior season, Penn State was one of the first colleges that got back to him.
It wasn't with the answer he wanted to hear.
"They said, 'We don't usually recruit 500 miles outside of Penn State,'' O'Connor said. "I was like, 'Wow. That kind of stinks.' I was a little upset.''
Instead of giving up, though, O'Connor kept trying to get the Nittany Lions to notice him.
O'Connor's response to the Penn State reply that so disappointed him was to send a highlight tape to University Park. This time, he was met with more enthusiasm, which included a visit from Lion assistant coach Bill Kenney and a scholarship offer.
O'Connor returned the favor by heading to Happy Valley with his coach, Chris Jones, this past weekend for the Lions' senior camp, and, on Wednesday, the 6-foot-4, 285-pound four-star prospect ranked just outside ESPN's national top 100 gave Penn State its 11th verbal commitment for the class of 2012.
"At first, I was telling everybody I was going to keep my options open and wait it out for my decision,'' O'Connor said. "But Penn State was always at the top of my list, and I was hoping when I went out there it was what I thought it was going to be. ... Right when I stepped on campus, I thought, 'This is where I want to be. This is where I want to go.'
"I fell in love with it. It was just incredible.''
O'Connor had about a dozen scholarship offers, choosing Penn State over Utah, South Carolina, Tennessee and UCLA.
O'Connor is the third recruit to pick the Lions in the space of five days, joining defensive tackles Derek Dowrey of Virginia and Austin Johnson of New Jersey. He is the third offensive lineman to pledge to Penn State: Ohio's Anthony Stanko and suburban Philadelphia's J.J. Denman committed earlier. Recruits Brian Gaia from Maryland and Jarron Jones from New York also are considered possibilities to wind up on the offensive line, but they are being brought in initially on the defensive side.
A couple of other offensive linemen Penn State was recruiting - Boyertown's Chris Muller and Tennessee's Blake Bars - surprised some by choosing Rutgers and Michigan, respectively, in the last week. In addition, defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick, the half-brother of former Lion standout Jared Odrick, committed to Rutgers on Wednesday.
O'Connor should help ease at least some of the pain Lion fans may have felt as a result of the Muller and Bars losses. Already a three-year starter at Windsor High School, a medium-sized school in northern Colorado about an hour from Denver and 45 minutes from Cheyenne, Wyo., O'Connor was a first-team all-state pick last season and the Tri-Valley Conference player of the year; it was the first time in conference history an offensive lineman had won that award.
O'Connor uses the strength of his 390-pound bench press and 615-pound squat to bully defenders. His highlight tape shows footage of him blocking opposing players 15 yards downfield or completely off the screen.
The Wizards have made it to the state semifinals the last two years. Windsor runs the flexbone offense, and Jones said 2,200 of the team's 2,800 rushing yards in 2010 came by following O'Connor at left tackle.
"He plays to the whistle, and he feels it's his job to protect those guys behind him,'' said Jones, a transplanted New Jerseyite from the same high school as former Nittany Lion football players Greg Buttle and Doug Strang. "He wants to keep his guy off of their backs and, possibly, a second guy, as well. And he takes it personally if he doesn't do that job.''
O'Connor likes to spend his free time lifting weights, hunting, fishing or working with his father restoring a 1956 Chevrolet he inherited from his grandfather. He plans to major in criminal justice.
O'Connor didn't begin playing football until seventh grade. He actually spent 11 years playing hockey as a defenseman following the Boston Bruins with dreams of being the next Rob Blake or Ray Bourque instead of the next Mark Munchack.
"I never watched college football until my sophomore year in high school,'' O'Connor said. "It's going to be a huge culture shock. Playing in my little town is nothing compared to what playing in Beaver Stadium is.''
O'Connor said Penn State originally looked at him as a guard or center in college, but, after working him out over the weekend, thinks he has a shot to play on the outside of the line.
Penn State got good news on the men's basketball front Wednesday as well, as new coach Patrick Chambers reportedly landed his first recruit in 6-foot-3 Massachusetts guard Akosa Maduegbunam. Maduegbunam also was looking at Temple, Drexel, New Hampshire and Iona.