Off-the-field problems not hurting PSU recruiting in Maryland

Problems away from the field for Penn State football players do not seem to be affecting recruiting in Maryland.

Originally Published: August 4, 2008
By Mike Loveday | Special to ESPN.com

State College, Pa., is little more than a three-hour drive for most of the Maryland high school football players committed to play at Penn State University, but ESPNís Outside the Lines series profiling the trouble Penn State athletes have gotten into off the field over the past six years must have hit even closer to home.

Or did it?

Six Maryland high school football players have verbally committed to Penn State and none of the players contacted seemed concerned about the issues raised by ESPN.

"Me and my mother watched it. It didn't really have an affect on me because I know what I can do and what I'm going through," said Derrick Thomas of Greenbelt Eleanor Roosevelt. "It doesn't really change my mind at all. I still like Penn State and I'm still with it."

While that sentiment is shared by the other athletes, Thomas' mother did not agree.

"To see all that stuff happening there, I really worry. At this point I don't really want him to go to that school. I know you can't run away because trouble is everywhere, but to see that they have a coach and a coaching staff that is not doing what they need to do to keep this stuff from happening really worries me," Angela Thomas said. "I don't want my son to attend a school where there's no guidance. When he's away from me I want him to have a role model to keep him in line."

According to an ESPN analysis of Pennsylvania court records and reports, since 2002, 46 Penn State players have faced 163 criminal charges. All told, 27 players have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a combined 45 charges.

All of which makes Thomas more than a little concerned.

"I am. Honestly, I am." Angela Thomas said. "I'm going to have to have a serious talk with him. I'm definitely not leaving it up to him. We all need to sit down and talk about this because I just want the best for my son and I need to see what type of options he wants to have right now because Penn State, to me, is not a good option."

Derrick Thomas added that his mother had expressed interest in him attending the University of Maryland before his commitment. Thomas chose Penn State over offers from Maryland, Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Illinois.

Thomas is one of six Maryland athletes committed to Penn State. Eleanor Roosevelt teammate Stephon Morris, Oxon Hill's Brandon Felder, Indian Hills Lackey's Darrell Givens and Malcolm Willis, and Gaithersburg's Sean Stanley have all committed to play for the Nittany Lions.

In fact, Penn State has received more commitments from Maryland players than from any other state so far. Five Pennsylvania athletes have given verbal commitments to PSU as of press time.

Among those already committed the allegations have little to no effect.

"Of course, if you have a lot of students and players at one school getting into trouble it's going to make that school look bad, but you can't necessarily say that the school is a bad place. It just shows that those people chose to make the wrong decision," Givens said. "It's not really been a big deal to me. Once you're in college, you're an adult. You're a grown female or male and you're old enough to make your own decisions. If you choose to make the wrong decision, that's on you."

Outside the Lines seems to have piqued so little interest in the athletes interviewed for this story that at least one, Felder, still has not seen the piece. Thomas chose to not watch the entire program and said he has no interest in seeing the rest of it.

Some of the names involved in off-field issues are familiar to Morris, which made the series more interesting for him, but did not make him waver.

"My whole take on it was that I stay away from that type of trouble. When you go to college you should know the things you shouldn't be doing," Morris said.

So what about the questions surrounding head coach Joe Paterno's job security? The 81-year-old Paterno, who will enter his 43rd season as head coach and has compiled a record of 372-125-3, is entering the final year of his contract and the OTL report raises serious questions about whether JoePa will return.

"I've been told that about his contract. I've been watching ESPN and they keep talking about it. I mean, even if this is his last year, whether it's a successor, which I'd love to have, or if it's a brand new coaching staff, and then I guess I'm going to have to see," Morris said. "I'm going [to Penn State] because that's where I should be. It wasn't for any specific coach."

Felder's mother, Bobbie, also seemed unconcerned about Penn State's off-field issues.

"I honestly don't have a problem as far as these allegations that have gone on with Penn State," Bobbie Felder said. "Both my son and I believe in the program and I don't feel as though this is going to be a problem with my son's football career or academic career."

While each student-athlete comes from a different background and the group is spread out over several counties, all expressed a similar thought.

"At a lot of schools around the country things are going to happen. People make mistakes. It's not like it really affected me or changed my mind," Willis said. "There are places you can get in trouble around the world. You can live in the country with no trouble at all and you can mess up. It's about bettering yourself after you make that mistake."

Penn State has offers out to five more Maryland high school athletes: Baltimore Dunbar's Tavon Austin, Gwynn Park's Raynard Randolph, Gaithersburg Quince Orchard's Travis Hawkins and Jason Ankrah, and Olney Good Counsel's Jelani Jenkins.

For complete football recruiting information click here.

So how will this affect the decision for potential commitments? At least one athlete said it will have none.

"That's not me. I know what kind of person I am and I won't be in situations like that," said Randolph, who is thought to be deciding between Penn State and Maryland. "That has nothing to do with me and has nothing to do with the school. That's outside of the school and what they did, and stuff like that happens everywhere. Unfortunately, they were the ones to get caught. Penn State is still one of my favorites."