Coming into the 2011 recruiting season, analysts and fans alike knew Penn State's class would be small, so efforts would need to be concentrated on only the best players. After all, Penn State isn't the type of school to offer scholarships to lesser-rated recruits simply to fill spots, right? Unfortunately, wrong.
No one could have expected the confusion and general mismanagement with which the staff handled the first part of the 2011 recruiting campaign. Offers were promised by some coaches only to be never sent to the players; communications were sparse to certain kids, and others were left hanging on an offer that would never come, forcing the players to look, and eventually commit, elsewhere.
Technically, Penn State's first commit of the 2011 season came just before National Letter of Intent Day 2010, as Shyquawn Pullium, a three-star defensive back, took a year of prep school before his planned enrollment in the fall of 2011. After the incredible 2010 class put their names on their letters of intent, Penn State fans were in for the long wait.
Days, weeks, and even months went by, with insider reports stating that the staff was grossly mishandling the recruiting of several high profile players. The extent to which that is actually true is known only by the staff members involved, but what we do know is that it was four long months before Penn State landed their first official 2011 verbal commitment, with three-star tight end Kyle Carter committing in May.
July would bring three more verbal commitments, including the highlight of the 2011 class, Angelo Mangiro from New Jersey. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound offensive lineman committed to Penn State over offers from Florida and Florida State, among others.
The rest of the summer came and went with no commitment news to report. While other schools in the area were stockpiling talent, Penn State coaches were still scrambling to find quality recruits they could add to their 2011 haul. Some people were optimistic, as Penn State still seemed like the apparent front-runner for many high-profile recruits. However, there only four verbal commitments, only three of which were official 2011 recruits, at the beginning of November.
November saw three more verbal commitments for Penn State, including what has since turned out to be the surprise of the class in Virginia's Matt Zanellato. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound wide receiver had some interest from other schools, but did not hold any big name offers when Penn State extended a scholarship. Many fans groaned at another two-star prospect filling a spot in a class that was projected to be no more than 16 players. However, in the three months since his commitment, more analysts have taken a second and even third look at Zanellato, and he is now rated four stars by Scout.com and appears to be a diamond in the rough for this class.
The firing of Dave Wannstedt by Pitt, often a rival in recruiting, would help Penn State's cause. This, coupled with the circus that surrounded replacing Wannstedt not once but twice in a month, caused many of the high-profile Pitt recruits to change their minds and look elsewhere. Pennsylvania linebacker Ben Kline and New Jersey wide receiver Bill Belton were two such players who de-committed from Pitt, and each pledged a verbal commitment to Penn State. Belton projects to be Penn State's next big "do it all" back, with many speculating that he will see time at slot wide receiver, kick returner, and potentially even in the secondary.
In the two weeks following Christmas, Penn State would get four more commitments, and it seemed like the class was actually starting to look decent. Offensive lineman Anthony Zettel surprised everyone when he picked Penn State over Michigan and Michigan State, and 6-foot-5, 275-pound Arizona lineman Ryan Nowicki followed soon thereafter. Three days later, Maryland's Donovan Smith would give Penn State their fifth offensive lineman of 2011, and other than Anthony Alosi (the only early enrollee of the class), each is rated at 88 or higher on Lions247.com.
Deion Barnes pledged his commitment one week ago, totaling 15 verbal commitments for the 2011 class. There remains some talk that the staff will take one or two more players, depending on who is available, but with National Letter of Intent Day less than a week away, I wouldn't expect too many fireworks. If anything, Penn State may lose a commitment, as Nowicki is currently being heavily recruited by Michigan and USC.
One of the knocks on the 2011 class had been the staff's inability to sign what little western Pennsylvania talent was available. Not one of the commits is from the Pittsburgh region, and the staff had very publicly missed on five-star tight end Ben Koyack from Oil City, who committed to Notre Dame over Penn State and Ohio State. Koyack was not one of the players who had his Penn State recruitment bungled at the beginning; by all accounts, the PSU staff was on Koyack early and remained in the hunt until the end. Koyack simply chose Notre Dame. The silver lining in all of this is that, if there was ever a year to have a poor showing in western Pennsylvania, 2011 was the year. By all accounts, the talent pool was extremely shallow, a stark contrast to the expected stars of the 2012 class.
The 2011 recruiting season has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions, starting off very frustrating, even rising to maddening levels when it seemed that no one knew what was going on in State College. Add in the mix several high-profile misses (Koyack, Ishaq Williams, Albert Louis-Jean), and fans everywhere were entering meltdown mode. However, the race to the finish line over the last three months has brought in a decent class, one that is now ranked 34th by Scout.com. Penn State fans can be pleased with the finished product, even if it is a drop-off from the amazing class of 2010.
The staff needs to get back onto the page of their recruiting manual that got them the 2010 class, as the 2012 class is going to be just as important. With over 20 spots said to be available, Penn State cannot afford to miss on some of the highest-rated players, both in and out of state. Some local players to keep an early eye on are Hopewell running back Rushel Shell and Fox Chapel offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty. The 2012 class has the potential of being great, but that will require continued hard work of the Penn State staff. Larry Johnson, Mike McQuery, Ron Vanderlinden, and Bill Kenney are all known as top-notch recruiters, and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is well-known and respected in western Pennsylvania. All of the pieces of the puzzle are there (with the exception of a head coach and offensive coordinator who actually recruit), so it simply remains to be seen if the staff can put it all together.