STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Penn State Nittany Lions fans cheer before the start of their game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Beaver Stadium on September 10, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The 2012 recruiting cycle sure was a roller coaster ride. It started out with the opportunity to be a top five class. Then The Thing, coupled with an extended coaching search, caused Penn State to lose most of its more promising recruits. However, TEAM BOBSLED did work and managed to salvage a respectable class.
The members of the 2012 recruiting class will hold a special place in the hearts of Nittany Nation. They raced into a burning building while others were rushing out. At the time, it would have been much easier for each of these guys to choose another option. But they saw something special in Penn State, and will join a community unlike any other.
While Penn State lost out on some of its main targets, there are still plenty of players to be excited about. On the offensive side of the ball, these are just a few of the players that stood out around here.
Chris: Steven Bench (QB). Sandwiched between Paul Jones (who appears to be making a run at the starting position for 2012) and 2013 mega-recruit Christian Hackenberg, Bench suddenly has become a bit of a forgotten man. Do not sleep on this kid. He's already studying the BOB playbook, and will come into fall camp more prepared than most incoming freshmen. His highlights reveal a quarterback with a live arm and great toughness as a runner. He can also throw on the run, and knows when to dial back the velocity and delicately float a pass to a receiver out of the backfield.
Adam: Jonathan Warner (WR). Yes, really. Warner certainly wasn't the highest rated recruit on the board this year; not by a long shot. But I really like several things about him. For one, his bloodlines are fantastic. We've had plenty of success with legacy recruits, and you can't get much better than Curt Warner. But in all seriousness, I'm most impressed with his work ethic. Warner is a kid that was stuck behind older athletes on his high school team and was a bit undersized. He wanted the elusive FBS offer, so he worked hard with a private trainer and improved his size and speed. With plenty of receivers in front of him, Warner will have time to get acquainted to the speed of the college game. Having Stan Hixon coaching him won't hurt either. I'm excited with what he'll eventually bring to the table.
Devon: Akeel Lynch (RB). They say it's impossible to judge a recruiting class for a couple of years, because you can't quite project the type of player most of the prospects will turn into. With Akeel Lynch, on the other hand, the Nittany Lions will know what they have rather quickly. At his season opening press conference, Bill O'Brien specifically mentioned the incoming freshman as slotting into the running back rotation behind Silas Redd, and now more than ever the team will expect him to make an early impact. With Curtis Dukes on the shelf to get his academic house in order, walk-on Derek Day is working with the second team since Bill Belton has a dearth of experience at the position. That mish-mash may well be eclipsed once Lynch steps on the field. But I'm not only excited to see Lynch excel in limited opportunities as a true freshman next year, but to see him grow and mature into the heir apparent in the lineage of great Penn State running backs.
Dan: Eugene Lewis (WR). In my opinion, Lewis was the biggest pickup of the 2012 campaign. While he hasn't played wide receiver on a consistent basis since his sophomore year (37 rec, 772 yds, 9 TDs), he should be able to make an impact from the very start in a corps that is very questionable behind Justin Brown.
Jeff: Jesse James (TE). A 6-foot-7 tight end with great hands in a Bill O'Brien offense? Uh, yes please. James was the only Class of 2012 commit to enroll early, and the young man from South Allegheny High School has been turning heads so far in the spring practice and workout sessions. While Penn State fans wait on the arrival of Adam Breneman, James (along with Garry Gilliam, whom is the likely starter at the "Y" tight end spot) should end up being a great addition to the class.
Cari: Akeel Lynch (RB). For my defensive player I went with my heart; for my offense, I'm going purely off what he brings and how I think he fits our team on the field. With Dukes' documented off-field issues, Lynch has a chance to come in and contribute right away, and I think he has the talent to do that (provided our O-Line is somewhat decent this year). The lack of true depth at the RB position means Lynch can be a force, a strong back up to Redd, as a true freshman--and here's hoping we wouldn't need him to be anything more than that. With his talent and the meager depth chart, I don't see a problem with him jumping right in and seeing the field this fall, unlike some other players who may need a RS year to bulk up or to learn technique behind numerous guys who've played at this level for years.
Jared: Anthony Stanko (OL). Penn State's first commit of 2012 should help ring in a new era of (hopefully) dominating offensive lines. Stanko will likely take a redshirt to get acclimated to the college game, but will not have to bulk up. The massive lineman dropped 35 pounds prior to his senior year and at 6'5", 295 pounds has the frame to succeed at the next level. The Warren, Ohio native excelled against top-level competition in Northeast Ohio, an area that regularly produces big-time college talent. An intelligent, high-character player, Stanko also has the tools to develop into a leader at Penn State. His statement following The Thing demonstrates his maturity and passion for Penn State. It may take a year or two to work his way up the depth chart, but I think Stanko will be one of the players that exemplifies the "Success With Honor" creed.