STATE COLLEGE — Part pep rally, part talk show, Penn State’s first “Signature Event” was looking for a jumpstart.
The few thousand Penn State students and fans that made the trek through snow and black ice in Centre County for the signing day in celebration were first brought to their feet by one man.
Making his return to Happy Valley after his rookie season in the NFL, cult hero Michael Mauti received a standing ovation from the Bryce Jordan Center crowd.
Having just met new Nittany Lions coach James Franklin in person for the first time, Mauti was happy to share his impressions of the new era.
“Right now I can say it’s pure energy,” Mauti said of Franklin. “Just a shot of adrenaline into the Penn State program.
“I’m so excited what he’s going to do here for the future at Penn State. No doubt in my mind he’s bringing a national championship right here to Penn State.”
That got things rolling as Mauti introduced fellow Linebacker U star LaVar Arrington, who served as emcee for the night.
As Arrington read off the names of all 25 members of Penn State’s 2014 signing class, Franklin detailed each and every player as highlights for all of them played on the videoboard.
The five early enrollees in the class were all there in person to be introduced to the crowd.
“I’m honored to be here and be part of this tradition,” quarterback Michael O’Connor said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
“Words can’t really explain what (the fans) all do,” wideout De’Andre Thompkins said. “I feel like I’m part of a family already and I love it.”
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg and Jordan Lucas also took the floor to thank the fans for coming out before Franklin wrapped up the ceremony himself.
“We talk about the healing here, coming back together as a family,” Franklin said. “United we cannot be stopped — everyone coming together to support this great university, this great program.
“I expect to see everyone at the Blue-White Game, showing this country what this university, this football program is all about.”
Praise for Beh
Two years after signing Eugene Lewis and Nyeem Wartman, Penn State went back to the District 2 ranks for a recruit.
Scranton Prep’s Noah Beh played guard and defensive end for the Cavaliers, but Penn State has him pegged as an offensive tackle.
“A monster of a kid,” Franklin said. “He’s 6-6, 265 pounds and he looks like he’s 235. He has the frame to be 315, 320 pounds.
“Really, really big upside. Can’t wait to get him in here.”
Spider staying put
Wednesday was a sure sign of just how much things have changed at Penn State in the last few years. But not all remnants of the Paterno era are gone for the Lions.
Beloved equipment manager Brad “Spider” Caldwell was part of the signing day festivities in the morning and said he’s getting ready for his 32nd season with the program.
“I know what The Last Mohican felt like, I can tell you that,” Caldwell said with a laugh in an interview on Penn State’s livestream of the day’s events.
Of course, Caldwell has served just as much as the program’s unofficial historian. So the magnitude of this unique day was not lost on him. Not just the pep rally in the evening, but the morning ceremony to celebrate recruits sending in their letters of intent, as well.
He said it was certainly a shock when he walked upstairs to the second floor lobby of the team’s Lasch Building headquarters, seeing it packed with people and and decorated with balloons.
But Spider himself was asked to announce one of the 20 signings at the podium during the party. And though he has a strong affinity to Paterno and Penn State’s traditions, he enjoyed the experience.
“It was neat for the kids, it was neat for the coaches,” Caldwell said. “It was special. I’ve never been involved in (anything) like that, and it’s something to look forward to every year.”
By the numbers
• 14 — States/provinces represented in the signing class, including early enrollees. New Jersey led the way with four recruits, followed by Pennsylvania and Virginia at three apiece.
Delaware, Maryland, Georgia and even Alabama sent two each. The Lions also landed one from Illinois, California, Florida, Ohio, Massachusetts and North Carolina.
And for good measure, quarterback Michael O’Connor is originally from Ottawa, Ontario.
• 24 — Average national recruiting ranking for Penn State’s 2014 class.
• 10 — Recruits who signed with Penn State after initially committing to another school. Five of them — Brendan Brosnan, Grant Haley, Trace McSorley, Amani Oruwariye and Chance Sorrell — followed Franklin from Vanderbilt.
Saeed Blacknall (Rutgers), Torrence Brown (Southern Miss), Jason Cabinda (Syracuse), Koa Farmer (Cal) and Johnathan Thomas (Maryland) were the others.
• 4 — Recruits coming off of a state championship victory in high school. Cabinda (New Jersey), Haley (Georgia). McSorley (Virginia) won three state titles while he was on the squad and one runner-up.
• 3 — UnderArmour All-Americans (O’Connor, Chris Godwin, De’Andre Thompkins) in the class.
• 3 — Recruits who suffered ACL injuries during their high school careers. Running back Johnathan Thomas and defensive back Daquan Worley.