After the NCAA issued their sanctions upon the Penn State football program (four-year postseason ban, 40 scholarship reduction over four years, etc.), everyone's questions surrounding the team were, who's leaving and who's staying?
However, the mass emphasis was on the players departing from the embattled program, whether it was on proven playmakers, such as Silas Redd and Justin Brown, or recruits, such as Dorian Johnson and Ross Douglas.
Despite all these melancholy news, Bill O'Brien finally got his first recruit, following the NCAA sanctions in Washington, D.C. area defensive back Jordan Smith.
So who is Jordan Smith, and what is the impact of his verbal commitment? Let's take a look.
Considering the mass exodus of cornerbacks and safeties this past year, Penn State’s clear weakness is in the secondary and will be the same next season.
Whether it was due to personal reasons (Derrick Thomas and Curtis Drake) or graduation, the Lions secondary took a massive blow to their depth, and they’ll be looking for people to step up and fill those roles.
This is one reason why adding Jordan Smith is so crucial.
While Florida native Neiko Robinson is a solid defensive back commit, the Lions were in need of another secondary pickup following Ross Douglas’ leaving for Michigan after the NCAA sanctions.
This pickup not only provides depth but also versatility.
Considered a big hitter, the D.C.-area product played quite a bit of linebacker in high school and might be better at the safety position.
However, he does have decent speed and could be implemented at corner if need be.
This kind of range will almost be a necessity going forward and will help out when Ted Roof is trying to fill out future defensive depth charts.
With the exception of Neiko Robinson, Jordan Smith is another example of Bill O’Brien keeping Penn State’s traditional recruiting pipeline states open and active.
Smith, a Washington, D.C. product, was recruited by Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, which makes sense considering the coach’s ridiculously strong ties to the area.
Of course, it’s a nice change of pace for the Lions to reel in a guy from Florida or Georgia (and considering O’Brien’s Southern roots, it may happen more often).
But in a time when a commitment to Happy Valley is a harder sell, it’s always reassuring to know that players are still being fed to the Lions through their well-established go-to states and regions.
It’s of course good to know that pipeline states are still working to Bill O’Brien’s advantage, but it’s even bigger to know that student athletes are still interested in Penn State after the sanctions.
Obviously, recruits like Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman are bigger name recruits, but those guys were already committed to Penn State before the NCAA levied their decision and were all extremely gung-ho about “restoring the roar”.
The case of Jordan Smith is a little different, considering he’s the first player to commit after the sanctions.
Sure, he made his unofficial visits months ago and knew about the program, but he still had solid schools offering him scholarships (via 247sports.com), most notably Colorado, Illinois, and Kansas, and if he didn’t verbally commit to Penn State, no one would complain or blame him.
Despite these offers, he clearly valued the opportunity to succeed at Penn State more than the other situations—regardless of the sanctions—which is a great sign for the future.
Not only does the sheer fact that the Lions got a commit following the sanctions boost morale, but the fact that the sanctions won’t affect this one is even more important.
The 5’10’’ defensive back made it known that he would be enrolling at Penn State early (via VictoryBellRings.com).
This is normally taken with a grain of salt in recruiting, with the only true upside that the recruit gets acclimated to the playbook and atmosphere quicker.
This time around, however, an early enrollee means quite a bit.
One of the main hits the football program took with the sanctions was the loss of scholarships (limited to 15 for four years starting in 2013).
Despite this, an early enrollment from a recruit—even though he would start playing in 2013—actually counts toward the scholarship count of the 2012 recruiting class at the discretion of the coaching staff.
This could prove helpful to Bill O’Brien, considering that he essentially isn’t handing out one of his precious 2013 scholarships but still getting a solid recruit next year.
With Penn State football getting all this negative press about the sanctions, they have to use these future, limited scholarships not only on talented players, but also on guys who will buy into the integrity-enriched atmosphere they need to uphold.
I’m not saying that Penn State has ever been on the wrong end of recruiting character players.
However, now that the team is under the national microscope, it’s more important than ever to ensure that recruits aren’t headcases or potential troublemakers.
This doesn’t seem to be a problem with Smith.
According to a report by The Patriot-News’ Bob Flounders, Smith is a good student, a high-character guy and mature for his young age.
All these traits should be music to Bill O’Brien’s ears, as he is trying to continue the tradition of integrity and football intertwined.