Sunday, July 13, 2014

Departing PSU class a mixture of success and failure

December 06. 2013 10:52PM

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PSU year in review

Sunday: The future

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Fresh off a trip to the Rose Bowl, Penn State signed one of its largest recent recruiting classes a month later in February 2009.

That group just finished playing its final games for the Nittany Lions a week ago with a win over Wisconsin, experiencing the highs of a bowl win over LSU in its first season on campus to the lows of the Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions.

Some did not redshirt and left a year ago with the rest just finishing their careers now. Rated as high as the 11th best recruiting class in the country, 17 of the 27 signees ended up making it all the way through to the end with Penn State.

Here’s a quick look at all of them in order of when they committed to the Lions.

Ty Howle

Rivals rating: ** OL

Scout rating: *** C

Lookback: The first verbal commitment of the Class of 2009, way back in March 2008, had to wait as long as anyone to get his shot. After serving as a long snapper and backup to heralded centers like Stefen Wisniewski and Matt Stankiewitch, Howle finally earned a first-team job at the start of this season as Penn State’s starting center for every game in 2013.

Malcolm Willis

Rivals rating: *** DB

Scout rating: *** S

Lookback: Willis was disappointed to redshirt in 2009, but made a strong impression in 2010 when he stepped into the starting free safety role in place of an injured Nick Sukay. Though he never became an upper-echelon defensive back in the Big Ten, Willis has been a fixture in the secondary for four years and a full-time starter in the past two.

Mark Arcidiacono

Rivals rating: ** OL

Scout rating: **** OT

Lookback: Recruited by several high-profile programs, injuries derailed Arcidiacono’s college career. When Bill O’Brien took over last season, he looked to be in line to compete for a starting job at guard. But a foot injury kept him off the field entirely, and he did not return for a fifth season.

Stephen Obeng-Agyapong

Rivals rating: *** DB

Scout rating: *** S

Lookback: He had never played linebacker before, but with the roster hammered by sanctions, that’s exactly what the coaches asked Obeng-Agyapong to do. He did it without complaint and even got to impress friends and family when he starred in the season opener near his home in the Syracuse game at MetLife Stadium. He also served as the starting strong safety for most of 2012.

Darrell Givens

Rivals rating: **** DB

Scout rating: **** CB

Lookback: One of Penn State’s top-rated recruits in the class, Givens never actually made it to campus because of academic issues. It was the first in a chain of problems that snuffed out his college career as he bounced from signing to Penn State to enrolling at Rutgers to transferring to FCS Towson, where he did not see the field.

Derrick Thomas

Rivals rating: **** DB

Scout rating: *** CB

Lookback: Hailing from the same high school as former Lions star Derrick Williams, Thomas’ time at Penn State was spent mostly in the doghouse. When Bill O’Brien arrived, Thomas didn’t last to see the regular season as he was dismissed in the spring of 2011. He wound up at Marshall as a top backup at corner.

Eric Shrive

Rivals rating: **** OL

Scout rating: ***** OT

Lookback: Shrive got off to a slow start on the field before making progress when the new staff took over last year, working in as part of a rotation on the line in 2013. The West Scranton grad’s legacy will be his charitable work, raising more than $100,000 with Uplifting Athletes and Lift For Life.

Frank Figueroa

Rivals rating: ** OL

Scout rating: ** OG

Lookback: A depth lineman during his time in Happy Valley, Figueroa graduated and elected not to come back for his fifth season.

Stephon Morris

Rivals rating: *** DB

Scout rating: *** CB

Lookback: Morris was a key member of last year’s senior class as he did not redshirt. An underrated and outspoken leader on a roster full of them, Morris was in and out of the starting lineup before serving as the Lions’ most effective defensive back a year ago. The team has missed him in 2013.

Brandon Felder

Rivals rating: *** WR

Scout rating: *** WR

Lookback: The start of his career nearly wiped out by injuries, Felder ended up being a serviceable option across from Allen Robinson midway through last season. Despite hitting a rough patch this month as his time winds down, Felder had a big hand in several Lions wins.

Sean Stanley

Rivals rating: *** DT

Scout rating: *** DT

Lookback: Some early disciplinary issues didn’t knock Stanley far off track, as he didn’t need a redshirt before contributing up front for Larry Johnson’s unit as an end. He was an effective if unspectacular starter for the Lions who graduated last season.

Curtis Drake

Rivals rating: ** ATH

Scout rating: *** CB

Lookback: The flashes of promise and athleticism he showed — throwing a TD at Michigan State 2009, successfully running the wildcat at Ohio State in 2011 — are overshadowed. Drake’s time at Penn State will be remembered for multiple injuries and his locker room scrap with Matt McGloin. He was academically ineligible before the 2012 season.

Curtis Dukes

Rivals rating: *** RB

Scout rating: **** RB

Lookback: A powerful, straight-ahead runner and not much else, Dukes wasn’t a great fit for O’Brien’s offense, which prefers more versatile backs. He did not return for a fifth season.

Adam Gress

Rivals rating: *** OL

Scout rating: *** OT

Lookback: A huge beneficiary of the new strength program under Craig Fitzgerald, Gress has spent the last two seasons splitting time at tackle, first with Mike Farrell and now with Garry Gilliam.

Christian Kuntz

Rivals rating: ** WR

Scout rating: ** WR

Lookback: A depth receiver who saw most of his time on special teams, Kuntz did not return for a fifth season.

Nate Cadogan

Rivals rating: *** OL

Scout rating: *** OT

Lookback: Bouncing back and forth between offense and defense, Cadogan didn’t match the production of older brother Gerald, who was a steady starter at both guard and tackle for the Lions. Cadogan transferred to play his final season at Hampton.

Glenn Carson

Rivals rating: **** LB

Scout rating: **** MLB

Lookback: Carson signed in February 2009 but ultimately didn’t enroll on scholarship until after the 2009 season as he recovered from a back injury suffered in high school. The move paid off for Carson, who played as a true freshman in 2010 and ended up as a highly dependable and durable three-year starter at middle linebacker.

Devon Smith

Rivals rating: *** ATH

Scout rating: *** WR

Lookback: The diminutive speedster had his ups and downs with the Lions before ultimately being dismissed from the team in the summer of 2012. He transferred to Marshall, sat out last season, and emerged for his final college season this year as one of the country’s better punt returners.

Anthony Fera

Rivals rating: *** K

Scout rating: *** K

Lookback: On his way to All-Big Ten honors as the Lions’ starting kicker and punter, Fera decided to return to his home state of Texas and play for the Longhorns when the NCAA lifted transfer restrictions in 2012. After an off year, Fera picked it back up in 2013, playing well in both roles in Austin.

Garry Gilliam

Rivals rating: ** DE

Scout rating: *** TE

Lookback: Gilliam ultimately decided not to use a sixth year of eligibility granted because of a severe knee injury and an ensuing infection that wiped out nearly two years of his career. But the upbeat big man contributed at both tight end and tackle and was the first player to publicly announce he would stick with Penn State following the sanctions.

Gerald Hodges

Rivals rating: **** LB

Scout rating: **** WLB

Lookback: Penn State’s strong 2008 season helped sway Hodges from a commitment to home-state Rutgers and play for the Lions. Originally a hard-hitting safety as a true freshman, Hodges matured into a strong all-around linebacker, enough to earn a draft selection last spring by the Minnesota Vikings.

Kevin Newsome

Rivals rating: **** QB

Scout rating: **** QB

Lookback: With Jay Paterno and Galen Hall running the offense, Penn State had easily its best success with mobile quarterbacks like Michael Robinson and, right during this recruiting season, Daryll Clark. Newsome was set up to be next in line, but the Virginia native proved to be more athlete than quarterback. The year he was supposed to take over in 2010, he finished the season as the third-stringer, abruptly leaving Penn State before camp opened in 2011. He eventually surfaced at Temple, but couldn’t stick at quarterback.

Jordan Hill

Rivals rating: ** DE

Scout rating: *** DT

Lookback: Hill committed to Penn State the weekend of the Lions’ Rose Bowl loss to USC. It turned out to be a decent consolation. Hill didn’t redshirt and developed into one of the Big Ten’s best defensive tackles by 2012, serving as a team captain and becoming a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the spring.

Shawney Kersey

Rivals rating: *** WR

Scout rating: *** WR

Lookback: The opportunity was there for Kersey in 2012 as the Lions needed talented wideouts to step up. But an early season falling out with the coaching staff led to him leaving the team last September.

John Urschel

Rivals rating: ** OL

Scout rating: ** OG

Lookback: Urschel was the second-to-last player in the class to receive an offer and has ended up as perhaps the best story in the class. He will leave Penn State with an undergraduate degree and not one but two master’s degrees along with All-Big Ten honors as a two-year starting guard. Not too shabby.

Mike Wallace

Rivals rating: ** DB

Scout rating: ** CB

Lookback: Wallace ended up being better-known for his work in a hip-hop group at Penn State, especially with injury knocking him out for the end of last season. He graduated and did not return for a fifth year.

Justin Brown

Rivals rating: **** WR

Scout rating: **** WR

Lookback: Brown did not choose a college until right on signing day in 2009 when he picked the Lions. A talented No. 2 wideout next to Derek Moye, his numbers were kept down a bit by Penn State’s endless carousel at quarterback for parts of 2010 and 2011. He transferred to Oklahoma for his final season after the NCAA sanctions hit and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers.


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