When uncertainty about the coaching staff about a month ago left a number of Penn State football recruits having to decide whether to stick with the Nittany Lions or look at other schools, Chasz Wright found it the perfect time to hop on board.
"I wouldn't say it was a no-brainer. I had a lot of stuff to think about. But I always thought of Penn State being Penn State, the school, the atmosphere, the people," Wright said just after committing to the Lions around New Year's Day. "Coach [Bill] O'Brien, I respect him as a coach and as a man, and I know he did what he had to do for himself as well as his family. I really didn't come to Penn State to play under coach O'Brien. I came to Penn State to play for Penn State and be a Penn State Nittany Lion."
Former Lion defensive line coach Larry Johnson rolled the dice on the Las Vegas-born Wright, a 6-foot-7, 268-pound offensive tackle, with a late scholarship in December. The move paid off when Wright became one of five recruits to enroll on Jan. 13, culminating a circuitous journey from high school in Virginia to a semester of prep school in New York and previous verbal commitments to two other colleges that eventually got him where it sounds like he wanted to go all along.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," Wright said. "I couldn't pass that up."
Penn State actually offered Wright a scholarship when he was a senior at Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Va., but things changed when the NCAA cut the Lions' available scholarships by 10. Wright ended up signing with UConn over North Carolina State.
However, an academic issue made Wright look at prep schools, and he wound up at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y. Wright initially reaffirmed his commitment to the Huskies, then switched to Temple in December before Johnson and Penn State reentered the picture.
Eight days later, Wright was a Nittany Lion.
"When I wasn't getting recruited by Penn State, I always kind of reached out to them to let them know I was always there," Wright said. "They didn't know I was at Milford. They just came up to me, and we had a little talk. A few weeks later, I heard from Coach Johnson."
Wright started every game at Milford last fall as the Falcons' left tackle. Playing a schedule that included a number of college junior varsity teams, Milford went 9-3, scoring 455 points and surpassing 2,200 yards both through the air and on the ground.
Falcons coach Bill Chaplick felt James Franklin and the Lions got a diamond in the rough.
"He's a bona fide top 25 offensive lineman," Chaplick said. "He's almost 6-foot-8. He's got arms that go down to his knees. He's got great feet, and he's a hard worker. He works very hard to get better every day.
"You get a I-A offensive line coach working with him, he'll get better every year. Everyone that saw us at the end of the year couldn't believe it was the same kid coming out of high school."
Milford smoothed a lot of Wright's rough edges. Three of his Milford coaches were major college football offensive linemen, including Chaplick, and he went up against Rutgers defensive line recruit Eric Wiafe every day in practice.
"In high school, I really wasn't a solid left tackle. I just relied mostly on my athletic ability, because I really wasn't taught much technique when I was in high school," Wright admitted. "I definitely looked the part, but I didn't play the part. When I went to Milford, I got coached up."
A Dallas Cowboys fans because his family started out in Texas before moving to Las Vegas and then Virginia, Wright said he tries to emulate Tyrone Smith because of his all-around line skills. Smith wants to major in communications, and, in his free time, he likes to play basketball, which he said helps with his footwork.
Wright comes from an athletic family. His mother went to college on a basketball scholarship, and his father was a bodybuilder and soccer standout - Wright himself played soccer until literally outgrowing the sport.
"Hearing stories about them doing what they did just influenced me to go out and try stuff," Wright said.
Wright is one of 24 recruits Penn State has landed this year, although there have been reports that Kentucky defensive end Lloyd Tubman is considering other offers. If Tubman stays on, the Lions can take one more player and reportedly have been trying to work on Gateway receiver-safety Montae Nicholson, who is committed to Michigan State, and Arizona offensive lineman Andrew Mike, who is supposed to announce his college on Monday - he's choosing from among Penn State, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Florida.
This weekend, Penn State was scheduled to host Florida defensive back Lamont Simmons; Simmons has taken official visits to Auburn, Arkansas and Southern Cal since decommitting from Rutgers in November.
Signing day is Wednesday. Then the rest of this class can officially join Wright.
"Penn State," Wright said, "has always been in my heart."