UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State white-clad throng of fans got more than they bargained for with the Nittany Lions' 43-40 four-overtime victory over Michigan on Saturday night, and the Lion coaches got more than they expected in a huge group of visiting recruits.
While it's not unusual for prospects not to make it because things come up at the last minute, Lion recruitniks received a pleasant surprise when the word broke that uncommitted four-star Virginia senior defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi had decided to venture to Happy Valley to take in the game with approximately 100 other high school stars who are thinking about wearing blue and white at Beaver Stadium in the future.
"This was the most crowded the sidelines had been since the Ohio State game last year," Scout.com Penn State recruiting analyst Greg Pickel said. "A lot of times, guys wake up Saturday morning, they had a tough game the night before, they decide not to come. But they got the guys they wanted here. And it was a good crowd. It was not filled with walk-on type guys.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State recruits watch the Nittany Lions’ four overtime win over Michigan.
"There was some good, good talent here. I think that's a positive for a team to get its best game and its best recruits at. I think it was a good turnout."
The group included a pair of players taking official visits: New Jersey tight end Mike Gesicki and New York defensive tackle Thomas Holley. Both are consensus four-star recruits and both appear to be looking at either Penn State or Ohio State as their eventual college.
"This is Penn State's biggest chance to sell him," Pickel said of Holley.
Also on hand was New Jersey outside linebacker Jason Cabinda, who verbally committed to Syracuse before receiving a scholarship offer from Penn State. Cabinda did well at the Nittany Lions' summer camp and many who report on recruiting think it is highly likely he flips his commitment to Penn State.
The surprise visitors were Nnadi and New Jersey wideout David Njoku, a Rutgers recruit. The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Nnadi has scholarship offers from a vast array of colleges, including Florida State, Ohio State and Virginia Tech. Penn State was involved with him early in the process but then the Lions and Nnadi seemed to part ways.
He only returned to the radar when the NCAA gave the Lions some of their scholarships back for the next three years.
"There didn't seem to be a lot of chance that he'd come here, and then he decides to come up today," Pickel mused.
There also were a large number of underclassmen led by Baldwin offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins, Central Valley defensive back Jordan Whitehead, Philadelphia defensive back John Reid, Maryland defensive end Darius Fullwood, Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt running back Andre Robinson and Virginia offensive lineman Austin Clark who were believed to be on hand.
"This was sort of focused on ," Pickel said. [Whitehead] seemed to be enjoying himself. He's a big-time player, and getting him here was big, because he doesn't go on a ton of visits."
The prospects and their families gathered in the recruit lounge above the media room. Although regulations don't allow him to discuss specific prospects, O'Brien was asked about them and what a game like Saturday's means for recruiting.
"You come to Penn State, you get to play in front of 100,000 fans and you get a great education," O'Brien said. "Hopefully things worked out tonight in that realm, too."