By Jim Raykie
Editor, The Herald
Football coach Bill O’Brien delivered to a local crowd of enthusiastic Penn State supporters much like he did on the gridiron during the regular season – with enthusiasm, an energetic message, and praise for the university’s outstanding history of academic excellence.
O’Brien, who led the Nittany Lions to a brilliant 8-4 season under the heavy weight of NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, spoke for about 30 minutes at the fundraiser “Friends of Penn State” sponsored by the Penn State Shenango Alumni Society at the Sharon campus.
O’Brien stressed that the focus of his recruiting efforts are athletes who are smart, are willing to work hard, and commit themselves 100 percent to the university and the football program. While he acknowledged that a limit on scholarships will be a challenge, it’s one that the program needs to face, overcome and move forward with the same grit and resolve that it showed last fall.
The congenial coach, who received several standing ovations during his on-point remarks, deflected any praise offered to him and his coaching staff, and said rather, it was the football players who deserved such accolades.
He paid tribute to his seniors as a very special group, mentioning Jordan Hill, Mike Mauti, Mike Zordich and Mike Farrell, and said winter conditioning followed by spring practice will offer last year’s underclassman to step up and replace the graduating leaders.
He said Penn Staters should be proud that because of the school’s highly regarded academic standing and tradition of excellence, he was able to land the top-rated quarterback in the country (Christian Hackenberg) the top tight end (Adam Breneman) and a host of other quality recruits.
While answering a question from the audience after the dinner about his ability to recruit wide receivers with untested quarterbacks on the horizon for next season, O’Brien said that with only 15 scholarships to offer and because the position is one of strength on the team, they only recruited one. “But we got the one we wanted,” O’Brien said of the signing of DaeSean Hamilton, plucked from Virginia - a stone’s throw from Virginia tech. “People talk about the Boyd kid from Pittsburgh and others, but we got the one we wanted.”
In response to another question about his ability to keep the team intact (players have until August to transfer without penalty as permitted by the NCAA sanctions), O’Brien said he was confident that the players will stay. “We’ll know a little more after spring practice,” he said with a smile, but turning serious, added, “But I won’t beg anyone to stay,” which brought a thunderous ovation from the more than 200 attending
O’Brien was joined by a contingent of Penn State officials, including athletic director Dr. David Joyner, executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association Roger Williams, as well as Jeff Nelson, assistant athletic director/communications, and Tony Mancuso, a Sharpsville native, assistant director of communications.
O’Brien saluted the hard work and dedication to Penn State overall and to the local campus by Sam Bernstine of New Castle, who is a member of the Penn State Alumni Association as chairman of the Alumni Council’s Membership Committee, and the Penn State Shenango Advisory Board. Bernstine spoke briefly and introduced O’Brien at the dinner.