With his commitment to the Penn State football class of 2013 last night, Camp Hill (Pa.) tight end Adam Breneman further bolsters a recruiting class that is off to a great start, with four highly touted recruits giving their verbal pledge within a two week period. And while Hackenberg deserves credit for kick-starting this recruiting class, Breneman is perhaps the most important key to turning around public perception of a program that has taken a beating in the last few months.
As most of us who follow the program already know, Penn State has had a long history of wanting more out of its student athletes. For as long as we can remember, we have attempted to recruit and sign players who are good performers on the field, and good people off of it. Breneman fits this mold to a T.
"He's more than just a football player. He's a phenomenal young man," Breneman's high school coach, Cedar Cliff’s Jim Cantafio, told BSD.
As Junny found out in his interview with Breneman, the five star recruit was looking for more in a University than just the opportunity to compete in football at a high level:
I grew up being a Penn State fan, looking up to Joe Paterno and loving Beaver Stadium. Penn State was what you could call my dream offer. However, at the end of the day I'm going to a school as a player and not as a fan. I have to find the best fit for me athletically, academically, and spiritually.
This speaks to the character of Breneman, and his off-the-gridiron motivation. His on-field talents have been hashed and rehashed, including on this site, but Breneman is also active off the field. A straight-A student, Canafio says he's very involved in both church and youth group activities. He's close to his family, including his father, who also played tight end in college football. He's become an active member in his community, where Breneman was born and raised.
This could have made the decision on which college Breneman chose even more difficult, as Camp Hill is located less than two hours from State College, and deep in the heart of Penn State fan territory. As Cantafio told the Centre Daily Times:
"I feel bad," Breneman told [Cantafio]. "I don't want people to think I don't like them."
The same goes for the coaches who have been courting him for several months now. Breneman knows he's going to make one coaching staff and one fan base ecstatic tonight. He knows he'll also be breaking the hearts of three others.
Fortunately for those of us who bleed blue and white, those hearts that he was afraid he'd break weren't the hearts of Penn Staters.
Breneman's path to committing to the Nittany Lions wasn't a smooth one, as many might have expected. As a highly touted recruit, he has had more than his share of phone calls, texts, tweets, and Facebook messages. The enormity of the decision to be made, and its impact, was no doubt not lost on the teenager. Again, from the our earlier interview:
The process has been very exciting, but at the same time very stressful. Right now I'm trying to take it all in stride and not get too overwhelmed by it. This process is just such a huge blessing. I've gotten to meet some awesome people and see some awesome places. I thank God all the time for this opportunity he gave me.
This opportunity Breneman has included visits and contact with some of the best college football coaches in the business, including Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, and Nick Saban. The number of offers he held before committing was more than twice the number of candles on his last birthday cake. There’s a lot of attention and adoration, both genuine and not so much, that goes into being so in demand; as Cantafio puts it, "When you’re considered #1 in the country at the tight end position, and you’re the #1 recruit in the state of Pennsylvania, a lot of people are interested."
According to Cantafio, Breneman’s had nothing but good experiences wherever he's gone, and this was both a blessing and a curse. "The coaches have been incredible. Bill O’Brien’s been phenomenal, Urban Meyer’s been phenomenal, [and] Randy Edsall’s been phenomenal. They make [the choice] very difficult. When you're with them, they're so good at what they do [that] you want to play for them."
So far, Breneman seems to have weathered the recruiting storm remarkably well, though the clouds won’t part completely until he can sign his letter of intent next February.
Coach Cantafio discussed Breneman’s poise under the remarkable pressure of being a highly sought after recruit. "No matter how much you handle pressure, it starts to get to you and you feel like ‘Do I have to answer these people? Do I have to respond to these people?’ and it starts to really play on you. And for someone who’s 16, he’s handled it remarkably well."
Part of the reason he's been able to handle the hype so well may be because he decided to commit to the program so early. In many occasions, when a highly-touted player delays his decision, for whatever reason, the pressure and the hype builds to a degree that no fan base, coaching staff, or recruiting enthusiast is completely satisfied with the result. Earlier this week, Jared and Keith tackled both sides of the early commitment issue, one that coaches and players struggle with year in and year out. One player who didn't struggle with this dilemma this year, though, was Breneman; with Cantafio's support, he was able to bypass at least a little of the pressure by committing in March 2012 instead of February 2013.
"I’ve been through this [type of hyped recruiting]," says Cantafio. "In 2003, I coached Chad Henne, the #1 player in the state of PA that year. The whole key to the situation is, you commit when you are 100% sure that that's a place you want to be for the next four years. And Adam says he’s 100% sure, and then there's no reason to let it hang...His comment to me was, ‘Coach, I want to get started with the process. I want to know where I'm going to be in the fall. I’m comfortable with my decision now. I want to help recruit the best players in the country.’
"So, I'm all for it. When the kid's ready, he's ready. You can't put a date on it."
As Breneman himself said last night, he was sure of his decision, sure that he could get a great education and succeed beyond football, and sure it was the right school for him. "I really didn't see any reason to wait it out any longer."
Because Breneman committed so early, his verbal will no doubt have an immediate impact on the current recruiting class for the Nittany Lions. The full impact, however, of his decision to join the Penn State football program can't yet be measured; in fact, it may take years before the weight of the decision bears out.
A similar decision was made in November of 2004, when Justin King committed to PSU; many point to this one act as the turning point for the football program after the much-maligned "dark years" of 2000-2004. After the scandal that has enveloped Penn State football since November, as well as the firing and subsequent passing of legendary coach Joe Paterno, the recruiting of another highly touted player may help this program turn around what many had anticipated to be an underwhelming few years.
What made King so special, aside from his on-field ability, was his passion for Penn State, and his ability to sell other touted recruits on the benefits of the school — not just as a football program, but as a whole institution. From all accounts, it seems Breneman could fill that same role; he himself said during his commitment announcement that he wants to "start the healing process at Penn State."
Breneman’s goal before he arrives, though, according to Cantafio, is to "help other kids get there [Penn State]." Cantafio indicated that this was a big reason for Breneman’s relatively early commitment; he wants to bring in other National-Championship caliber student athletes to the school.
"If he commits early, he can help with the recruiting process. If him coming in early is going to be able to help the school, he’s going to recruit top players at top positions because he's going to be there, he's more for it," Cantafio said.
Breneman may be more for it, and so are the fans of the Penn State football program. We take pride in our University and the representatives it puts out on the football field for the country to see, and hopefully Breneman's commitment will help restore that pride to the many who feel it has been tarnished. His intent to join the ranks of so many storied players, restoring honor and dignity to Happy Valley, says more about the University, the current coaching staff, and Breneman himself than anything that could be written about Penn State.
As Cantafio said, "You don't find them better." And we are lucky to have found Breneman.