Because of the harsh penalties imposed by the NCAA for the next several seasons, the Penn State coaches are going to need to uncover some prospects capable of playing big-time college football before anybody else does.
In Alabama's Jonathan Walton, they seem to have done that.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof was instrumental in getting the 6-foot-0, 228-pound middle linebacker from Bayside Academy up to camp over the summer and offering him a scholarship when the other colleges in pursuit were Arkansas State, South Alabama, Troy and UAB. The level of interest in Walton has changed considerably over the last couple of months.
"Ole Miss is recruiting me. They didn't make an offer, but they're talking to me now. South Carolina just started talking to me," Walton, who also had an offer from Minnesota, said.
Even with more high-profile colleges coming into the picture every day, Walton decided to make a commitment to Penn State during his official visit to University Park on Dec. 7-9. If the Nittany Lions can keep him on board, he'll be part of what currently is an 18-member 2013 recruiting class.
For Walton, whose favorite subjects are math and algebra because he likes to work with numbers, things just added up in Penn State's favor.
"I always liked [Penn State]," Walton said. "I held open my options. I said, 'I'll look around.' I sat down with my family. I looked at the schools that offered me. I went on my visits, saw what it was like and made my comparisons. I went to Minnesota and I went to Penn State. Those were my top schools. I went to Penn State, and I made my decision. I knew where I wanted to go."
Playing right in the middle of Bayside's 3-3-5 defense, Walton led the Admirals in tackles, blocking three punts and returning one of those for a touchdown during a 7-5 senior season. In Walton's three years as a starter, Bayside, which is located in the town of Daphne right on Mobile Bay, went 27-10.
Bayside coach Phil Lazenby said the reason colleges have been interested in Walton is pretty simple.
"He's big and he's strong and he's fast. Those are the things that you look at," Lazenby said. "He's got the size to take on a [high school] lineman, but, and I know this is going to sound crazy, we even thought about playing him at safety because he has the speed to do it. He's really good at playing inside-out and chasing you down."
Lazenby said Walton has timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In addition to playing defense, Walton runs the ball with the balance and power of a bowling ball, enabling him to average more than 10 yards per carry as a senior in around 40 attempts.
Lazenby had Walton return one punt. In what Walton said was one of his favorite moments as a high school player, he took the kick back 74 yards for a touchdown.
"I asked him if he minded just concentrating on Mike linebacker this year. He said, 'Coach, I'll play anywhere you want me to play, and, believe me, he just about could," Lazenby said. "He would have been the best running back we had by far, but he ended up being the best linebacker. And he never once complained."
Walton, whose favorite football players are Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, also played basketball and ran track in high school - competing in the 100-meter dash while throwing the shot 47 feet - before deciding to devote more time to training for football, which he's been playing since he was 6.
Part of the reason it was easy for Walton to commit during his Penn State visit was the connections he made with some of the other incoming recruits, like Zayd Issah, Brandon Bell, Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman, as well as current Lion freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman.
"We felt comfortable. Everybody was cool. You get to see who you're going to be living with, who you're going to be around the next four years. You have to look at that. I think they're good kids, and we felt at home," Walton said. "I was with Nyeem. He helped me out a lot. He wanted me to come there bad, and he showed it."
It seems like other colleges are going to show Walton the love, too, before letter-of-intent day, but he said he has no intentions of changing his mind.
"I consider myself solid," Walton said. "I consider myself solid."