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January 6, 2012

Top recruits glad Penn State is starting fresh

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SAN ANTONIO - The hiring of Bill O'Brien - someone outside the Penn State family - has met with a torrent of negative reaction from big-name football alums of the school.

The opposite has been true among big-name recruits.

Take highly coveted defensive end Dajaun Drennon. He doesn't know much about new Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, but he's eager to find out more. And that fact O'Brien wasn't connected to the old regime is a big reason why.

"I'm glad that it's someone new," he said.

Drennon, among more than 500 underclassman here for the U.S. Army National Combine, said he's still gathering information.

"The news just broke last night," he said after testing in the shuttle run. "I haven't had a chance to look on the internet yet, but once I get home I'll do some searches and find out more about him and then I'll give them a call and see if I can talk to him."

O'Brien would be wise to take his call.

Penn State is one of 10 schools to already have offered the 6-foot-4, 227-pound junior - making him one of the most coveted players in the Class of 2013.

His high school, Sicklerville (N.J.) Timber Creek, is in the heart of an area that Penn State used to own - and in area it will need to do again if it is to maintain its status as an elite program.

But until O'Brien was hired - and it became clear the current staff would not remain - Drennon wasn't so sure he would even look at Penn State.

Drennon, whose team attended a summer camp at Penn State in June of 2011, said the news of the sex-abuse scandal that broke in November impacted him greatly because of his time on campus.

"It was kind of creepy," he said. "Those were the guys who were our coaches, the guys we were looking to for guidance and they were doing that to 8-year-old kids. I'm glad they got rid of them all."

Drennon may be overstepping things to implicate all of the members of the current staff. It's still unclear who know what and when.

But his statements said a lot about the perception of the program.

For decades, Penn State had an inherent advantage over other major colleges in not only Pennsylvania, but also New Jersey and Maryland. The program will have to fight to maintain that.

And while the scandal and coaching search certainly impacted the Class of 2012, the true impact may not be apparent until 2013 and on, when O'Brien and his staff have a full year to convince underclassmen that Penn State is still a premier destination.

Buddy Brown, an outside linebacker at Williamstown (N.J.) High, isn't sure what to think of the hire.

He said he could understand why the new coach would want to clean house, but also doesn't know how that would impact him.

"I don't know if he's still going to recruit me or what kind of defense they are going to run," he said.

Either way, Brown said it would be foolish to write off Penn State.

"I don't think this should change how Penn State is viewed as a football program or an academic institution," he said.

Long-term, Penn State may to be OK.

Hours after his hire, it appears the biggest name in the Class of 2014 is willing to give him a chance.

"It's good that they are starting fresh," massive offensive lineman Orlando Brown of Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha said.

Brown, the son of the former NFL player by the same name, already is attracting offers as a sophomore. Being 6-6, 360 will do that.

Brown, whose school has sent players to Penn State in the past, said he would be willing to listen - and that the scandal would not impact his decision.

"Football is football," he said.

"Stuff like that you look at, but I don't think it should have any effect on the program."

WETZEL: O'Brien's challenge at Penn State starts off the field



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