You could forgive many of the recruits committed to Penn State for looking elsewhere once the sanctions on the school came down this past summer. A four-year bowl ban? That would mean that an entire class would play at the school for their entire careers with no chance whatsoever of a postseason game.
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Indeed, soon after the NCAA levied its sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, five players who had previously committed to the Nittany Lions backed out, and many others were fielding options from other schools.
A funny thing happened, though: coach Bill O'Brien rallied the team and the university. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman decided to honor their commitments, and became a de facto welcoming committee for the rest of the incoming freshmen. In all, 17 players either signed on Wednesday or affirmed their commitments. Eight of those players committed after the sanctions were levied.
The NCAA has imposed a 15-scholarship limit per class starting in 2013; most teams get 25. Breneman and four other players dodged that hammer by enrolling early as 2012 students.
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But Hackenberg was the key. He was the first committed recruit, and once he decided to stick with Happy Valley, he was all in. "I'm loving everything O'Brien has done with the team," he said in October. "He's one of the main reasons why I committed here, and he keeps proving me right."
O'Brien's job isn't done. The NCAA opened the door for any Penn State player to transfer to any other school without the usual year-off waiting period. That opportunity exists right on up to the first day of August practice. As a result, O'Brien is building a deep pool of walk-ons to guard against any future problems.
It's a dark time at Penn State right now. But Nittany Lion fans have guys like Hackenberg and Breneman to look to, and they'll set the standard for classes to come.
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