Head coach downplays absence of his quarterback

Bill O’Brien doesn’t think it’s any big deal that one of two players battling to be Penn State’s starting quarterback isn’t on campus this summer working out with teammates.

Sophomore Tyler Ferguson is back home in California with his family to visit his mother, who’s battling breast cancer. That leaves freshman Christian Hackenberg as the only starting quarterback candidate around to work on things with receivers and build chemistry during voluntary workouts.

The Ferguson news has been reported for a couple of weeks, and O’Brien sounded upset when asked for an update on him Friday. He said the media and fans “made a mountain out of a molehill on that one.”

“I’m not sure what the big deal is with that, and no, he’s not back at school,” O’Brien said. “Summer is voluntary, so Tyler has gone home. His mom is sick, he’s got a great mom and he’s gone home.”

Coaches can’t be around players during the summer, but quarterbacks and receivers spend a lot of time on their own throwing passes, getting timing down and building trust and friendship. Those things, quarterbacks always say, are vital to becoming the leader of the offense.

Ferguson is missing out on those opportunities since he’s not around the team. But O’Brien does expect the junior college transfer to return to school and the team.

“He’ll be back here for training camp,” the coach said.

Excited for Ireland

O’Brien and athletic director Dave Joyner were on separate teleconferences Friday to talk about Penn State’s trip to Ireland next year to play Central Florida. While most of the questions were about that, reporters took the opportunity to ask both men several questions about the NCAA sanctions (see Page A1).

O’Brien has been talking about a reward game on the schedule since the sanctions were announced, and the Ireland contest fits that goal.

“I thought it was important for our players to be able to travel somewhere overseas,” he said. “A lot of these guys have never been overseas, so I think it’s a great experience for our players.

“I also believe that it’s a fantastic opportunity for our fans. When I took the job here, one of the things that the fans told me a lot was that they planned their Christmas vacation around bowl trips. Obviously, we can’t go to a bowl, but this is somewhat of a Labor Day vacation, and I think that the timing will be great for our fans.”

Joyner said one big benefit with the game is it will “give Penn State a lot of national exposure, which I think it already has with all the talk about it.”

The football team likely will leave in the middle of the week, Joyner said, rather than be in Ireland all week. That will limit the amount of time the players have to do sightseeing – especially with a game to prepare for on the Saturday – but Joyner believes the players will still have “a good period of time” there to enjoy themselves.

Penn State initially looked into possible games in Hawaii or California, but the Ireland possibility kept getting stronger, so Joyner said that became the “main focus.”

“Our players are really excited about it,” O’Brien said. “We don’t have a lot of interaction with them in the summertime based on the NCAA rules where we really can’t meet with them at all about football. But what from what I hear, our players are very excited about going over to Ireland and to get that experience while also playing a great opponent in UCF.

“Again, you know, it’s a year away, so the guys are really thinking about the Syracuse game [to open this season]. That’s the priority.”

SUBHD: Recruiting solid

Penn State has had no dropoff in recruiting so far despite the sanctions, pulling in a number of highly rated players for its 2014 class, and the trip abroad has been something O’Brien and his staff have been talking about with recruits.

“One thing that I’ve found in the 19 months that I’ve been on the job is that recruiting here has not suffered at all,” O’Brien said. “The numbers have suffered, obviously, because of the sanctions we can’t sign as many kids as everyone else.

“But when we get a young man on campus here at Penn State and they see all of the things Penn State has to offer academically, athletically, the student body, the setting of the campus in the mountains of central Pennsylvania and the 100,000-seat stadium, I think recruiting has been going very well for us. So hopefully this [trip to Ireland] will add to that.”