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Column: Lions filling barn quickly

Bill O'Brien's first 16 months on the job at Penn State have included more drama than he or anyone else could have imagined, and certainly more than he would probably care to deal with.

Godwin and eight other prospects decided on Penn State in the first five months of 2013.

But there hasn't been much drama during his first two Signing Days and that trend doesn't appear as though it will change.

Why? Because the Nittany Lions are taking care of their recruiting needs well before February. And at the rate they're going this year, they might even put the finishing touches on the Class of 2014 before the 2013 season even begins.

Two years ago at this time, the Nittany Lions had received commitments from four prospects in what would be a 19-member Class of 2012. Three years ago, they didn't get their first commit of the Class of 2011 (an unheralded tight end from Delaware named Kyle Carter) until May 26.

Then came the regime change, and with it a distinct change in when future Nittany Lions began to pull the trigger.

Last year at this time, Penn State had already secured commitments from six prospects -- a third of its eventual class -- including building blocks Christian Hackenberg, Adam Breneman, Garrett Sickels and Brendan Mahon.

The NCAA sanctions mean Penn State can bring no more than 15 recruits on board in the Class of 2014, but as of last Friday the Nittany Lions had already secured commitments from nine prospects and stand in very good shape with a handful more.

The sanctions have made the Nittany Lion coaches more selective about whom they offer, O'Brien said last week during the Coaches Caravan, but the quick pace he and his staff have set on the recruiting trail isn't necessarily intentional.

"I'm not sure how much I care about when they commit," O'Brien said. "I really just care that they feel like they fit in and that they're ready to commit.

"I really don't get into the pressure game. I say, 'Look, this is what you can do for us.' I'm not a used-car salesman. This is what Penn State has to offer you -- academically, socially, campus setting, weight room, coaching staff, food, training table, dorm room -- these are all the things that go into recruiting. And then I say to them, 'Look, when you're ready to make a decision, call. If you feel like you fit here (meet the teammates, meet the other guys on the team. And if you feel like you fit in here, we want you here."

Today's recruits know when their peers are committing and where they're headed. They also have a pretty good idea, from talking to the coaches, how much room those schools have for them depending on the size of the recruiting class and the depth at the position. Those numbers will both be smaller at Penn State than they will be at most other major programs for the next few years but that hasn't stopped four-star recruits like Chris Godwin or Marcus Allen from committing even when (or because) they knew space was tight.

In Penn State's case, getting commitments early on in the recruiting cycle means the coaches get a better idea of how the class is shaping up and can adjust future offers accordingly. They can also get a jump on recruiting the junior class.

"Of course we'd all love to have the guys here sooner than later but we just want them to make a good decision for themselves," O'Brien said. "When you get your class sooner, then many times you can start working on your next class. So that's one of the benefits. But you're doing that anyway. That's the way college football recruiting is now anyway. If you want to stay up with the Joneses, that's what you'd better be doing."

The downside of getting commitments from talented prospects early on is that most rival programs don't stop recruiting them, so coaches have to check in from time to time to make sure they stay in the boat, so to speak. But because Penn State can only bring in 15 prospects in this class, the school's coaches will have less "checking up" to do than many of their rival coaches.

If all goes as planned, the list of players who fax their letters of intent to the Lasch Building in early February won't look much different from the list of players currently committed to Penn State. That would mean that, for the second year in a row, there wouldn't be much drama for the Nittany Lions or their fans on Signing Day.

O'Brien probably wouldn't mind that.

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