Penn State Recruiting: Bill O'Brien looking to sell NFL connections

Rob Carr - Getty Images

The Nittany Lions' coach says every NFL team has had a scout in Happy Valley this season.

NCAA sanctions will keep Penn State out of a bowl game for four years and force the Nittany Lions to compete with 40 fewer scholarships over the next four recruiting classes. Those are the facts.

But Penn State coach Bill O'Brien isn't sold on the premise that the sanctions will prevent his program from competing for top recruits with the scholarships it has. It just won't be able to compete for as many of them.

"This is a place where you can play great football with great kids, as teammates, and get a fantastic degree," O'Brien said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "You can play in front of a 100,000 people. You can play on national TV."

That's a pitch he's been making since the summer, and it's been fairly effective. Even in the face of the sanctions, Penn State has been able to keep the core of its 2013 recruiting class together. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman headline a group of four four-star rated recruits still committed to the Lions. Only Ohio State and Michigan have more four-star rated pledges, according to Rivals.

But five weeks into the season, O'Brien believes he can start selling his professional connections, too.

"Every NFL team has been in here to scout our players already this year," O'Brien said. "So you're going to have exposure to that. You are going to play for a coaching staff that has NFL experience, national championship experience."

O'Brien, of course, came to Happy Valley from the New England Patriots and added assistants to his staff who have experience with the pros, too.

Running backs coach Charles London has worked with the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and, most recently, the Tennessee Titans. Wide receivers coach and assistant head coach Stan Hixon coached wideouts for the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills from 2004-2011.

And that message of professional experience carries even more weight now that O'Brien can sell not just his own staff's record, but the interest of those currently on the NFL level as well. That's something even current players, who could have transferred anywhere after the sanctions, are responding to.

Linebacker Glenn Carson said he tries to block out scouts' presence at practice from his mind and stick to his routine, but thinks it's good that they're making stops in State College.

"I'm not so conscious of it, but it is nice to have them around, knowing that there's NFL guys looking at you and players on your team, giving you the opportunity to go to the next level," Carson said.

And if O'Brien has it his way, that's something recruits will value now that he can't pitch competing for bowl games or Big Ten and national championships.

"At the end of the day, you know, I've been very, very impressed with the fact that people really, really enjoy being recruited by us, coming to the games here," O'Brien said. "So is it going to be hard? Yeah. Recruiting's hard. Recruiting's hard. But at the end of the day, I think there's a lot of good stuff."

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