O'Brien lauds recruits sticking with Penn State

By Genaro C. Armas

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 1 2012 6:15 p.m. MST

Stanko said O'Brien made a big impression on him over his message about family and work ethic. The current players don't have any direct connection to Sandusky or related off-field issues, Stanko said.

"I never really swayed away from Penn State. I've always stuck with it because I knew it really didn't affect Penn State, at least the kids that are there now," he said in a phone interview. "When I went (on a visit), no one talked about it much. When I visited, I was able to rest easy knowing it wasn't a big impact on the players right now."

It would be naÏve to suggest the Sandusky case didn't impact the recruiting class, said Mark Brennan, editor of FightOnState.com, which covers Penn State recruiting.

"But given everything that's happened, they couldn't have done much better," Brennan said. "If you would have told me that in early November, I wouldn't have thought that was going to happen."

Brennan, Fitz and other analysts have said receiver Eugene Lewis, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., is one of the top recruits, and someone who could potentially contribute right away if O'Brien follows through on his plans to revamp the Penn State offense in the mold of the Patriots' potent attack.

Penn State also filled a position of need by signing running back Akeel Lynch, who is from Toronto but played high school in western New York. The Nittany Lions currently have just two scholarship tailbacks in Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes.

O'Brien lost out on quarterback Skyler Mornhinweig, the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. He took back his verbal commitment, in favor of Florida.

But O'Brien and his staff, who have recruiting connections in the South from O'Brien's previous coaching stop at Georgia Tech and Duke, did sign a quarterback in Steven Bench from Bainbridge, Ga. The son of a high school coach, Bench ran mainly an option system until switching schools his senior year and doing well in a pro-style offense.

Penn State's profile of Bench lists him as having a 3.86 grade-point average while being a "smart player with quick decision-making" — just the type of qualities that O'Brien is looking for in a quarterback.

Bench said he and his family spoke to other coaches they knew in the South to get a sense of whether the NCAA could potentially sanction Penn State over the Sandusky scandal. "From what I've gotten, it's not looking that way," Bench said in a phone interview.

Bench said he made a tough decision to decommit from Rice before accepting Penn State's offer last week. He cited the ability to get a good education as well as play Big Ten football.

"The fact that my future coach is going to coach the best player in the Super Bowl, (quarterback) Tom Brady, next week, is amazing to me," Bench said.

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