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O'Brien pleased with 2013 haul

Bill O'Brien is not a gusher.

O'Brien says he is relishing the challenge of competing with 65 scholarship players.

Like many old-school, no-nonsense coaches, Penn State's head football coach typically speaks positively about his team but is careful to temper any praise with statements like "We'll have to wait and see" or "We still have a long way to go."

That said, O'Brien felt he had plenty to be positive about on Wednesday afternoon, when he met with reporters at the Lasch Football Building to discuss the Nittany Lions' freshly added Class of 2013.

"This is a great day for Penn State because it proves a lot of things about Penn State," O'Brien said. "We signed a lot of kids who committed to us early and stayed committed to us when they could have gone elsewhere. That says a lot about Penn State. We found with our run-on program that there are many guys out there that have grown up dreaming about Penn State that have fantastic opportunities to go to other schools, but they've chosen to come to Penn State."

Penn State, still in the first year of NCAA sanctions imposed on the program last July that called for a reduction in scholarships, signed eight offensive players and nine defensive players, filling most of its major positional needs, including those at quarterback, defensive back and offensive tackle.

"We feel like with the restrictions and only being able to sign 15, we feel like we balanced it pretty well," O'Brien said. "At the end of the day, do we wish there were a couple positions we could get more guys? Of course. But we can't.

"We feel like we balanced it well, with the linemen and skill players. We wanted to recruit guys that fit our style of play and we feel like we did that."

A class ranked 26th in the nation by 247Sports might have finished even higher had Penn State not lost committed prospects like Dorian Johnson and Will Fuller, who changed their minds after the sanctions.

"There's no question that we lost some guys to the sanctions. I'm not going to tell you that wasn't a factor," O'Brien said. "At the end of the day, all I'm concerned about is the guys that we have here."

Arguably the biggest name of the class is Virginia quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who will compete with sophomore Steven Bench and junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson, who enrolled in January, for the starting job.

"Any one of those guys could be our starting quarterback against Syracuse," said O'Brien, adding that he might or might not name a starter at the end of the spring, as he did last year with Matt McGloin.

O'Brien said the staff will continue to focus on about a 300-mile radius around State College for the bulk of its recruits but would still work its contacts in the south to pull prospects from there, as it did with defensive backs Kasey Gaines and Neiko Robinson and lineman Parker Cothren this year.

The sanctions also affected Penn State's run-on program. O'Brien said the Nittany Lions will look to add about 13-15 non-scholarship players. As far as the returning players who, under the sanctions, will be free to transfer without penalty until the start of preseason practice, O'Brien is confident the players on the roster are there to stay and play.

"Nothing's changed as far as the honesty, the relationships we have with them," he said. "We understand what the rules are, but at the same time, we don't spend every waking minute talking to these guys about staying. We're very mindful of it, but we just continue to coach them on a day-to-day basis."

O'Brien admitted that he and the staff had to significantly adjust their recruiting strategy when the sanctions hit and that they are constantly revisiting those strategies. Recruiting won't be easy for the Nittany Lions for the next few years.

"You really can't miss when you can only sign 15 scholarship players," he said. "We feel good about where we're at, but only time will tell."

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