Assistant coach London fitting in at PSU

TYRONE – Charles London grew up in suburban Atlanta, and football has taken him to places like Durham, N.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and Nashville, so moving to State College was a bit of a change.

It’s one he says he’s come to embrace.

“I love it. It’s really the first time I lived in an area that’s really more of a smaller college town,” London said. “I enjoy the small-town feel.”

London got a taste of one of the region’s bigger small-town football hotbeds on Saturday when he came calling at the Bull Pen Restaurant to deliver the featured speech at the Golden Eagle Monogram Club’s honor group recognition dinner. Penn State’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator took a few hours out of his schedule just four days before signing day to talk to the intimate gathering about the Nittany Lions’ wild 2012 season and how he came to be at University Park.

“It’s just great to get out in the community,” London said. “Anytime we can get out in front of the community and share our Penn State message, we’re definitely willing to do so.”

Despite harsh NCAA penalties after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the Nittany Lions, after an 0-2 start, finished 8-4 and beat eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin.

“I think what they’ve done is nothing short of remarkable,” said Altoona Are High School coach John Franco, who was there to present former Tyrone player Al Hammers and special honoree Al Shoenberger. “They were probably thrown into the toughest situation in the country. I don’t know if any coaching staff around could have done as well as they did.”

The Lions also have done well off the field. Although its scholarships were limited by the sanctions, Penn State has a recruiting class ranked 22nd nationally by 247Sports and 25th by ESPN.

“We feel good about all our current prospects. It’s a great group of kids,” London said. “We’re looking forward to signing day and getting them to be officially part of the Penn State football family.”

Penn State has five early enrollees and 12 verbal commitments. Many analysts feel the Lions probably are finished with this class and are moving ahead to next year’s, but the door is still open to add as many as three more players – among them possibly Lancaster Catholic running back Roman Clay.

“We still have some decisions to make,” London said. “We’re not in a rush to go out there and just throw out scholarships that we may have available. We’re still in the evaluation process with only a few days to go. We’re still thinking about doing some things.”

In addition, the Lions have worked hard to entice non-scholarship players to join the program in light of the NCAA restrictions. In the last week, the walk-on ranks have ballooned to almost 20: North Allegheny receiver Gregg Garrity, Lewisburg linebacker Brandon Smith and Franklin Regional linebacker Carter Henderson are among the biggest names to jump on board.

“We really have to thank the high school coaches in Pennsylvania for helping us. They’ve been really good about getting names in front of us about kids they think have the ability to compete at the level and kids that are interested,” London said. “We’re going to need these kids.”

Several local players – like Tyrone’s Charles Wilson-Adams, Erik Wagner and James Oliver – were invited to games last fall.

“In central Pennsylvania, if you are a football player in high school, most kids’ goal is to play for Penn State,” Franco said. “I think people undersell our kids in District 6 and Central Pa. I think we could get a couple of kids up there that might help out.”

London is happy with the reception he’s received.

“The people are great, and they love Penn State football,” London said. “You can’t ask for anything more.”