Thursday, October 20, 2011

Class of 2009: Heart of the Penn State football program

Recruiting class of 2009: Heart of the Penn State football program
It's low on attrition and leading PSU into 2012 and beyond

The most productive players in the 2009 PSU recruiting class thus far are true juniors Gerald Hodges, Justin Brown and Jordan Hill. Very nice players, but ... ho-hum. They are relatively unknown beyond Happy Valley. Not superstars, not yet at least.

However, of the 27 who signed in 2009 (a huge class for PSU), a whopping 25 are still with the program. That's an extraordinarily high retention rate after two-and-a-half years. Most schools have more than two signees who don't make it to campus that fall, much less all but two still in the program a few years later.

The 25 from 2009 - 19 sophomores, 6 juniors - are the cornerstone of the PSU program.

Here's the breakdown:

DEARLY DEPARTED: DB Darrell Givens, QB Kevin Newsome.
  • Newsome lost out in the QB competition and transferred after this spring. PSU reportedly wanted Givens, a star recruit, to go to prep school. He declined and eventually ended up at Rutgers where he has scarcely played.

IN THE BACKGROUND: G Mark Arcidiacono, T Nate Cadogan, G Frank Figueroa, T Adam Gress, WR Christian Kuntz, S Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, G Eric Shrive, CB Mike Wallace
  • Just about every OL recruit from this class has yet to pierce the depth chart. With four starting lineman graduating after this season, all of five of the redshirt sophomore OLs listed above will get a shot in 2012. Cadogan has moonlighted at TE as necessary.

SOLID CONTRIBUTORS: C/LS Ty Howle, CB Stephon Morris, WR/KR Devon Smith, S Malcolm Willis
  • Morris and Smith - diminutive junior speedsters from Maryland - had the earliest impact in this class, playing quite a bit as true freshmen. Morris was usurped by Chaz Powell when Powell switched from WR to CB, but he has been a solid backup and could start next year. Smith has been overused; PSU needs to pick its spots carefully for him to get the ball. Willis, a redshirt sophomore, has been a key reserve/nickelback and should start the next two seasons. Howle (redshirt sophomore) is a stellar student who has handled much of the snapping duties the past two seasons.

POTENTIAL FOR MUCH MORE: WR Curtis Drake, RB Curtis Dukes, WR Brandon Moseby-Felder, TE Garry Gilliam, WR Shawney Kersey, CB Derrick Thomas, G John Urschel

  • All of these guys are redshirt sophomores and have shown flashes, but for one reason or another (injuries to Drake and Gilliam, doghouse for Thomas) haven't had much impact yet. But they are on the verge, and most will be counted on the rest of this season and the next two seasons.

STALWARTS: WR/PR Justin Brown, K/P Anthony Fera, LB Glenn Carson, DT Jordan Hill, LB Gerald Hodges, DE Sean Stanley
  • Brown, Hill, Hodges and Stanley - all juniors who played sparingly as true freshmen - have emerged as solid starters and significant playmakers this season. Fera, a redshirt sophomore, has stabilized the kicking situation. Carson, who grayshirted due in part to a back injury, is a true sophomore. He was a surprise anointment as a starter before the season and has not disappointed.

How were the class of 2009 evaluated entering college? Phil Steele's annual college football preview magazine creates a composite ranking for every recruit, based on an average of multiple recruiting services. Collectively, PSU's 2009 class ranked 14th nationally and third in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State and Michigan. Here's how they were rated individually when they signed, in order:

1. Eric Shrive, 2. Kevin Newsome, 3. Justin Brown, 4. Darrell Givens, 5. Gerald Hodges, 6. Glenn Carson, 7. Sean Stanley, 8. Curtis Dukes, 9. Mark Arcidiacono, 10. Shawney Kersey, 11. Derrick Thomas, 12. Ty Howle, 13. Adam Gress, 14. Stephon Morris, 15. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, 16. Malcolm Willis, 17. Devon Smith, 18. Jordan Hill, 19. Anthony Fera, 20. Brandon Moseby-Felder, 21. Curtis Drake, 22. Garry Gilliam, 23. Nate Cadogan, 24. Christian Kuntz, 25. Frank Figueroa, 26. Mike Wallace, 27. John Urschel

PSU GIVETH, PSU TAKETH: The hullabaloo over the recent loss of an offensive line commitment compelled recruiting analyst Mike Farrell to write a short piece about Penn State's history of losing committed players to other schools.

The skinny: PSU gets as many formerly committed players as it loses.

Farrell listed many well-known PSU recruits the Lions signed after they first committed to another school: Bani Gbadyu (LSU); Gerald Hodges, Shawney Kersey and Jordan Hill (all Rutgers); Anthony Morelli, Ben Kline and Bill Belton (all Pittsburgh); Pat Devlin (Miami); and Anthony Fera (Michigan).

NON-WISCONSIN: Of note is that it was a Big Ten school - Wisconsin - that recently swooped away the in-state PSU commitment, offensive lineman J.J. Denman. Supposedly there is a long-held Big Ten gentlemen's agreement that schools shall not covet fellow Big Ten commitments. (Fera's father said that Penn State did not contact Fera after his initial commitment to Michigan, and this admittedly is a gray area). When Rich Rodriguez came on board at Michigan he quickly flipped three prospects who were already committed to Big Ten schools - including RB Michael Shaw from Penn State - and he caught a lot of flak. Slick Rich was new to the league, and that bad karma seemed to shadow him during his disastrous three-year tenure.

Where's the flak for Bret Bielema? The Wisconsin coach has straddled the ethical line on some other occasions, too. In 2006 vs. PSU, he instructed the Badgers kickoff team to purposely sprint five yards ahead of the kicker to exploit a rules loophole (soon corrected) and run out the clock in the first half. After the offsides penalty was administered, Wisconsin kicked off again two more times (and was waaaay offsides again), but the lost time on the game clock remained lost (as per the rules that season), and Penn State never got the ball.

It was interesting enough that Bielema purposely exploited the loophole. But by having the entire kickoff unit offsides by five yards and running full speed into the unsuspecting PSU players - instead of having just one player do it - he created a very dangerous situation.

This was overshadowed, however, by the sideline injury to Joe Paterno, when Andrew Quarless crashed into his knee after catching a pass that day. But here's ESPN's account of the kickoff incident from the game story:

"Bielema did, however, get Paterno's blood boiling near halftime when the Badgers tried to run out the last 23 seconds of the half by intentionally going offsides on two straight kickoff attempts to take advantage of a new rule that starts the clock when the ball is kicked.
Paterno stormed onto the field to complain to officials, then emphatically waved off a television reporter as he headed to the locker room."

Bielema's karma count definitely is running in the negative. Even moreso with the announcement that Michigan State stud DE William Gholston is suspended for the Wisconsin-Michigan State game this weekend.

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