It has been nearly a year since the biggest scandal to rock college football broke in western Pennsylvania, bringing with it unprecedented sanctions against a football program that had been held up as a model for others to follow. While it has been well publicized that many existing roster players elected to transfer from the school immediately, many more chose to stay.
More damaging, however, was the effect on recruiting for the Nittany Lions, as a number of high-profile prospects who had declared for PSU began to recant, seeking greener pastures. Some of the most coveted recruits have chosen to honor their commitment to the university, and head coach Bill O'Brien has once again begun to lure prospects back to the program. But, whereas the Nittany Lions had been collecting talent at the 3-, 4- and even 5-star levels prior to July 23, since the sanctions were imposed, Penn State has collected just three recruits—none higher than a 2-star prospect (all ratings per Scout.com).
Recruits Since the July 23 Sanctions
Kasey Gaines (2-Star Safety)
The Loganville, Ga. native was the the second recruit to commit to Penn State since the sanctions, giving his nod to the Lions on Sept. 19. At 5'10" and 160 pounds, Gaines is on the smaller side, but he runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds.
“I really didn’t think of the NCAA stuff as a big deal,” explained Gaines (per Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). “They chose me to be part of building the program, so I feel honored about that.”
Tanner Hartman (2-Star Guard)
The most recent Nittany Lions commitment (Sept. 25) reversed his commitment to Maryland in order to join coach O'Brien in 2013. At 6'4" and 255 pounds, Hartman reportedly runs the 40 in under 5.0 seconds and should help to offset the loss of OL prospect Dorian Johnson.
Jordan Smith (2-Star Cornerback)
Smith was the first recruit to commit to Penn State after the NCAA handed down its program-crippling sanctions. Smith reportedly passed up an offer to join Norm Chow in Hawaii, according to Josh Barnett of USA Today [on USAToday.com].
"This is an opportunity for me to go out and show everyone what I can do," Smith explained to Jared Shanker of ESPN Recruiting Nation. “All I know is Penn State is my dream school and the place I wanted to go since Day One."
Recruits Prior to the July 23 Sanctions
Brandon Bell (3-Star Linebacker)
As the only remaining linebacker recruit for the class of 2013, Bell's commitment appears strong. “It was all really good and then I wrapped it up with a nice talk with Coach O’Brien,” said Bell after his visit to the Penn State campus in September (as reported by Nyssa Dougherty of The Press of Atlantic City).
Adam Breneman (5-Star Tight End)
Breneman, from Camp Hill, Pa., grew up as a Penn State fan, and his commitment is considered a lock. Breneman tore his ACL in June and is still sitting out his senior season as he recovers from surgery.
Curtis Cothran (3-Star Defensive End)
The 6'5" Pennsylvania native is still committed to the program despite interest from Connecticut, Kent State, Maryland and Northwestern.
Christian Hackenberg (4-Star Quarterback)
Considered by many to be the crown jewel of the Nittany Lions' recruiting class, Hackenberg recently reiterated his commitment to Penn State in late September. "With or without bowl games, it's still Penn State," Hackenberg declared (as per Josh Moyer of ESPN Recruiting Nation). "Nothing I liked about Penn State has changed."
Brendan Mahon (3-Star Offensive Lineman)
Mahon reaffirmed his commitment to Penn State in July when he told The Sporting News, "You can tell everyone that I love everything about Penn State and Coach O’Brien.”
Andrew Nelson (3-Star Offensive Lineman)
The Hershey, Pa. product grew up as a Nittany Lions fan. "My commitment right now to Penn State is very strong," Nelson told Josh Moyer of NittanyNation in a Sept. 30 interview.
Neiko Robinson (2-Star Cornerback)
Robinson recently had his six-game suspension (for allegedly throwing a punch and being ejected from a game against Panama City Bay High School) reduced by two games. The cornerback has not de-committed from the Lions.
Garrett Sickels (4-Star Defensive End)
"The best place for me is Penn State," Sickels told The Sporting News concerning his offers from other conferences. "This is why I committed in the first place.”
Recruits Who Have De-Committed
Zach Bradshaw (3-Star Receiver/Linebacker)
Virginia was the lucky program to grab the interest of Bradshaw after his de-committment from Penn State.
Ross Douglas (3-Star Defensive Back)
Dismissing his commitment to Penn State, Douglas sifted through the offers from 20 other schools and chose Michigan.
Will Fuller (4-Star Receiver)
Fuller backed away from his Penn State commitment and announced his intentions to attend Notre Dame.
Zayd Issah (4-Star Linebacker)
Approximately two months after committing to Penn State, Issah recanted, opening up his options for pursuit by 17 other schools.
Dorian Johnson (4-Star Offensive Lineman)
After de-committing from the Nittany Lions, Johnson remains uncommitted, but reportedly has offers from 19 other schools.
Greg Webb (4-Star Defensive Lineman)
Since withdrawing his commitment from Penn State, Webb has declared for North Carolina.
Prior to the sanctions, Penn State was ranked as the No. 13 recruiting class by ESPN. Since then, it has dropped to No. 25 on ESPN's list. Scout.com rates Penn State's class at No. 44, while Rivals.com puts the Nittany Lions at No. 48.