Members of Penn State's new coaching staff hope to use their southern roots to draw recruits to Penn State while keeping a focus on Pennsylvania.
Members of Penn State coach Bill O'Brien's new staff weren't on the job long before they realized they were hopelessly lost outside of Happy Valley.
"The second thing we got when we got here after our ID was a GPS," running backs coach and incoming recruiting coordinator Charles London told reporters last week. "I needed that on my last recruiting trip. A lot of us are familiarizing ourselves with Pennsylvania."
Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., longtime assistants under Joe Paterno, have extensive experience in the area. Beyond them, though, many of the assistants have their roots in the South.
O'Brien, a Dorchester, Mass. native, coached at Georgia Tech from 1995-2002 and Duke from 2005-2006 before heading north to take an assistants job with the New England Patriots. It was during those years with the Yellow Jackets and Blue Devils that he forged many of the bonds with the coaches he has recently recruited to be assistants.
London worked with both O'Brien and new defensive coordinator Ted Roof as a graduate assistant at Duke when O'Brien was the offensive coordinator and Roof was the head coach in Durham. Wide receivers coach Stan Hixon, tight ends coach John Strollo and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter are also among those who worked with O'Brien at Georgia Tech or Duke and have coached elsewhere in the South.
With that in mind, it's easy to wonder whether Penn State's recruiting base will take on a more southern flavor under O'Brien after Paterno's staff focused primarily on harvesting talent in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and other states on or near the Mason-Dixon line.
London thinks it will be a little bit of both.
"One thing we want to do is we definitely want to get the best players in the state of Pennsylvania," London said. "This is a talent-rich base for high school football, so we definitely want to maintain that. But we will hit some of the Mid-Atlantic states. There are some strong tries to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida so those are definitely areas we will try to identify some prospects and try to get some kids out of."
The southern ties have already paid off for Penn State with one recruit. Last week, O'Brien credited a good relationship between himself, McWhorter, Roof and Cairo (Ga.) High School coach Tom Fallaw with helping land quarterback signee Steven Bench of Bainbridge, Ga. for the recruiting class of 2012.
Bench had previously committed to Rice, but an official visit to Happy Valley the weekend of Jan. 22 swayed him to take his talents north and sign with the Nittany Lions. The rest of Penn State's class hails from Virginia on north, but Bench's signing marked a bit of a change from what Lions fans are used to.
Moving forward, London said he expects each coach on the staff to take responsibility for certain areas of the country in addition to recruiting for their respective positions. London, for example, will handle southwestern Pennsylvania and southern Virginia. And while he said coaches haven't completely sorted out their areas yet, he expects Roof and Hixon will be "heavily involved" in Florida while McWhorter will be "heavily involved" in Texas.
Pennsylvania residents can rest assured, though, that Penn State will continue to have a heavy presence in their state, too.
"The first priority is to take care of the state of Pennsylvania," Roof said. "Beyond that, I think that as a coach, certain geographic areas that Penn State has always drawn players from I think, I know that we're going to do those areas as well. And I think you go other places where you have a connection or the school has a connection with kids."