Column: Close class ready for 2013

They text each other. A lot. They'll call each other. They'll bust each other's chops, or defend one another, on Twitter.

Penn State's commitments have bonded in Beaver Stadium and elsewhere.

And while they're doing that, the 18 members of Penn State's Class of 2013 will discuss the ways they can help make that class -- and the one behind it -- a little bigger. Call this uncommitted prospect, just to say hello. Text another that you liked his film.

"We have a pretty good system down," Adam Breneman said.

Breneman, the four-star tight end, is one of four Penn State commitments who will enroll in classes in January (junior-college quarterback Tyler Ferguson signed this week). The others are set to sign their letters of intent a few weeks later and cap what, on paper, has been a successful recruiting cycle for Bill O'Brien and his staff.

The sanctions levied by the NCAA last July made recruiting into a different sort of challenge for that staff. But they also helped strengthen the remarkable bonds between the recruits themselves.

"When you go through a recruiting process, no one understands what it's like unless you go through it yourself," Breneman said. "They don't understand what it's like to be 16, 17, then on top of it have this whole situation at Penn State come down and have big decisions you shouldn't have to make.

"We all kind of stuck together through all of it."

If they see the field as true freshmen in 2013, the members of this class will play in no more than one bowl game. If they redshirt, they'll play in no more than two. They'll play alongside nearly as many run-ons as scholarship players. And they'll know that the rest of college football will be waiting to see when the other shoe drops, when the weight of the sanctions truly kicks in.

They don't care. In fact, they're the ones who want to be there when that weight gets heavy.

"We've been through a lot. It's been pretty much unprecedented," Breneman said. "We've looked at ourselves at guys that need to be linchpins for this program."

As Breneman said, the Nittany Lions' recruits have bonded because they know precisely what they're all going through. They know their fellow recruits want to be at Penn State for the same reasons they do. And knowing that has brought them closer together.

"What makes us close as a group … each and every one of us, we all just have good character," said Washington D.C. defensive back Jordan Smith. "That's one thing the coaching staff did a real good job of, recruiting guys that are high-character guys. … It's easy to get along with guys like that. That's the type of people you want to be around."

Just how close is this group? Close enough that, during those nerve-wracking days at the end of July, it considered going elsewhere -- as a group.

"We always wanted to stay together," Breneman said. "When the sanctions came down, it was no secret we thought about leaving. We talked about what other school we could go to we'd all love."

But Breneman, Smith, Christian Hackenberg, Brendan Mahon, Garrett Sickels, Andrew Nelson and Curtis Cothran, the core of the class, very quickly decided they wanted to play together for O'Brien and Penn State, and haven't wavered since. A few commitments dropped out, but more have come on board. And the bond has gotten stronger, even extending to the recruits' families.

"What brought the parents together was kind of the challenge that Penn State was going through and some of the difficult decisions and the issues we all had to deal with," said Breneman's father, Brian. "A number of us had been together 4-5 times, between the July visit, to games, then the official visit weekend. The parents have stayed connected via email and face to face meetings. I would say that we've gotten to know each other and started to form friendships that will continue 4-5 years."

The sons will continue to talk and text -- and recruit -- until they're all on campus together and can talk and work out face to face. They are eagerly awaiting their chance to not only put on the pads but also to show the world why they wanted to come to Penn State.

"I think he's doing this as an opportunity that's even bigger than football, and that is to be part of a healing process and part of a group of student-athletes that will be able to script the next chapter of this university and this football program," Brian Breneman said of his son. "He wants to be a leader and look at this opportunity to be more than just a football player."

He's not alone in that regard.

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