Joe Paterno's tough offseason has been well documented in and around State College after canceled appearances at Nittany Lion Club events in Pittsburgh, Hershey and Philadelphia due to illness. Though Paterno has been feeling better lately, any uncertainty with his health will inevitably lead to negative fallout on the recruiting trail, something that may have manifested itself in a big way Monday evening when right tackle prospect Marquise Wright of New Jersey committed to Pittsburgh over offers from Penn State and Maryland.â†µ
Wright is one of the top recruits at his position in the nation and was poached from the fertile Nittany Lion recruiting grounds in the Garden State, prompting further alarm over an already thin 2011 Penn State recruiting class, still with only one member.â†µ
Though it is a small class and though Paterno and his staff have been able to withstand past worries about his age and/or health, it's certainly troubling to see a big fish get away from Penn State like this. Especially heading into a year when top talent out of Pennsylvania appears to be sparse and the team itself isn't projected to make a lot of noise for recruits to get excited about, extraneous concerns like Paterno's health could create a perfect storm of bad recruiting news for Penn State.â†µ
Run Up The Score has a great take on the situation over at Black Shoe Diaries.â†µ
One drastically underreported problem is the effect his health could be having on recruiting. Not because he doesn't leave Happy Valley to visit recruits (nothing new there), but because he's having difficulty meeting the local demands of the job. Months ago, recruits were complaining that they were told written offers were forthcoming, but Penn State was lazy in actually following through on their promises. Now, with "Evening With Joe" events being cancelled and newspapers asking Graham Spanier for quotes on Joe's health, those recruiters who have been trying in vain for decades to use Paterno's age and health against him finally have some factual support for their assertions. We all know that he's been pining for a championship run in 2011 like the rest of us (though we'll see how the soon-to-be scrambled Big Ten schedule shakes out), but it's time to face the distinct possibility that this really could be Joe Paterno's last season (yes, just like every season).â†µ
While there will likely be wide ranging overreactions and narrow focus put of the loss of Wright, it's certainly a legitimate cause for concern, and signals that the Nittany Lions are in a spot of trouble with this class at the moment. This will put pressure on the 2011 and 2012 teams to live up to the championship level potential to build excitement about the direction of the program.