The Penn State Coaches Caravan rolled into Woodbridge, N.J. on Wednesday, and new football coach Bill O'Brien once again fielded questions about his vision for the program's recruiting moving forward.
He reaffirmed his commitment to filling out most of the roster with players hailing from areas within a a six- to seven-hour driving distance from State College, and said he expects New Jersey to be a big part of that effort.
He did acknowledge that local schools including Rutgers and Connecticut have made recruiting in the area more competitive in recent years. He remains hopeful New Jersey recruits will be receptive to the new coaching staff's message, however.
"These are top-notch programs, so all we want to do is come in here and talk about Penn State because we're in competitive battles with all those guys," O'Brien said. "New Jersey is definitely a big priority for us."
So far, Penn State's new staff has drawn several recruits from the state. Class of 2012 signees Austin Johnson, Wendy Laurent, and Jamil Pollard are all New Jersey natives while Class of 2013 verbal commitments Brendan Mahon, Garrett Sickels and Greg Webb all call the Garden State home as well.
When prompted, O'Brien also talked about his blue print for drawing recruits from the South. He noted that many coaches on the staff have connections specifically in Texas, Georgia and Florida where offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, defensive coordinator Ted Roof, wide receivers coach Stan Hixon and defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. have all worked in one area or another. He hopes this will allow Penn State to cherry pick some good fits to lure north and help the program improve its speed and athleticism.
"What we do when we go to those areas is we tell people right away, because it is a distance, 'Hey, look. Here's how you have to get to Penn State. Here's what you would have to do to get here,' "O'Brien said. "And if there's still an interest, and obviously if they're a top-notch student athlete, then we're going to recruit the heck out of those people. And it won't be a majority of our roster, but we think that there's no doubt about it we can be somewhat of a national school in those states where we have connections."
O'Brien's staff has already plucked one prospect, Class of 2012 quarterback signee Steven Bench, from Georgia, though it's still looking to get on the board in those states with the 2013 class.
Check out O'Brien's full exchange with the media in New Jersey in the video below via the Penn State All-Sports Blog.