Mount Hebron defensive end Aaron Maybin was the first Washington-area senior this season to accept a scholarship offer from Penn State. He probably won't be the last.
The past few years were lean on the field for the Nittany Lions, with critics wondering whether the game has passed by legendary Coach Joe Paterno. But a six-game winning streak to start this season seems to have changed the way many recruits view Penn State. A scholarship offer from the Nittany Lions is much more meaningful and with assistant coach Larry Johnson leading the way, Penn State is in the mix with many of the top prospects in what is considered an extraordinary year for the Washington area.
"Now, for whatever reason, [78-year-old] Paterno doesn't seem as old," Forestville Coach Charles Harley said. "Even though he is older by the day, nobody mentions that he's too old for this."
In addition to Maybin, who pledged to Penn State this past Monday, the Nittany Lions are in the hunt for highly-regarded players such as Lackey offensive lineman J.B. Walton, McDonough defensive back A.J. Wallace, Forestville offensive lineman Antonio Logan-El and Gwynn Park defensive lineman Phillip Taylor.
Penn State also will get an official visit from Quince Orchard linebacker Bani Gbadyu, who this summer committed to Louisiana State. Gbadyu took his official visit to Baton Rouge this past weekend and "he's assured them he feels good about LSU, he just wants to make sure," Quince Orchard Coach Dave Mencarini said. Gbadyu also will take a visit to Georgia.
This year's seniors never knew what it was like in the 1980s and early to mid-1990s, when Penn State was a national power and the Nittany Lions could handpick their recruits. Then Penn State began to falter and its status slipped. Now, though, on the heels of landing Eleanor Roosevelt all-everything Derrick Williams last year, Penn State is back in style.
"I think it has a lot to do with who's hot," Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy said. "And Penn State is hot right now. The kids watch TV, they read the paper. What do they have, 111,000 at Penn State [home games]? That's appealing to young kids."
Along with winning, Penn State has Johnson to recruit the Washington area. Johnson guided McDonough High to three Maryland titles in the 1980s, moved on to T.C. Williams and was an assistant principal at La Plata before being hired at Penn State.
"He certainly has good relationships with people down here," Lackey Coach Scott Chadwick said. "They have a guy recruiting this area who is a name in the state of Maryland. That is a big factor."
Said Quince Orchard Coach Dave Mencarini: "Larry Johnson is the best recruiter I've come across, for a number of reasons."
To some, it is the way Johnson dresses. Other coaches wear their college gear, Johnson is likely to show up at high schools in a coat and tie. He does not seem as pushy.
"Larry is just so humble and comes across differently than most recruiters," Harley said. "Kids are attracted to that."
Additionally, former Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden is Penn State's linebackers coach. While Vanderlinden struggled in his tenure at Maryland, it was players he recruited that formed the nucleus of teams that won 31 games in Ralph Friedgen's first three seasons.
Meantime, Chadwick said that Walton will take an official visit to State College, with visits also planned for Nebraska next weekend and Florida State after that.
"Certainly the season they're having has probably solidified themselves in some players' minds," Chadwick said. "The facilities and traditions up there speak for themselves. But there are some kids who really needed to see they're getting back on the right track as far as being successful goes. Some of the success they've had this year has calmed some kids' fears about their competitiveness."
"I think he falls into that category," Chadwick said. "He loves the tradition and facility up there. In his case, he wanted to see they were still able to be competitive."
Penn State has nine Washington-area players on its roster. In addition to Williams, leading rusher Tony Hunt (T.C. Williams), second-leading receiver Deon Butler (Hylton), defensive end Matt Rice (Eleanor Roosevelt), cornerback Anwar Phillips (Northwest) and punter Jeremy Kapinos (West Springfield) are in the starting lineup.
"Obviously, winning solves all your problems," another Division I-A assistant coach said. "I'm sure the atmosphere is very exciting. I'm sure that has a lot to do with it. I'm sure kids are more interested in them now. And it's close [to the Washington area]. Kids look at that. They want to go far away to school, but not too far away."
A. Davis, a Husky
Good Counsel fullback Anthony Davis this week committed to play for Connecticut. Davis previously had scholarship offers from Kansas and Temple, but quickly took the opportunity when the Huskies made their offer this week, Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy said.
Davis, who is 6 feet and 235 pounds, has rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns this season.
"I'm surprised more people weren't on him," Milloy said. "Although I think they would have been after his senior films. A lot of people were waiting to see some film on him this year" before deciding whether to offer a scholarship.
Milloy said that wide receiver Drew Gloster will take official visits to Maryland, Virginia Tech and Miami before making his decision. "That's smart," Milloy said. "Right now I think he's leaning to Virginia Tech, or has been. He's going to the [Maryland-Virginia Tech] game, I know that. Drew has really played well this year. He has really improved his game. I'm very happy with his maturity as a player and as a person."