- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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New Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has talked about casting a wider net in recruiting, and he and his staff are starting to deliver.
While O'Brien wants to maintain Penn State's presence in the Mid-Atlantic region, he and several of his assistants also have ties to fertile recruiting areas in the southeast. Among them is the state of Florida, where Penn State has been noticeably absent during the past decade.
Penn State's recruiting drought in the Sunshine State ended Monday as the team received a verbal commitment from defensive back prospect Neiko Robinson, a product of Northview High School in Bratt, Fla., located in the northwest corner of the state. According to Fightonstate.com, if Robinson signs with Penn State in February as expected, he'll be the first Florida native to join the Nittany Lions since offensive lineman John Wilson, a Daytona Beach product, in 2001.
It's quite shocking to see any major program go so long without luring a player from Florida, considered one of the top three talent-producing states for football players virtually every year (along with Texas and California). Three of the nation's top six players in the 2013 ESPN 150 hail from Florida. The 150 includes nine Floridians in the top 30, 18 in the top 50 and 30 overall.
Penn State has recruited a group of players from outside the region in the past 11 years -- from states like North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and California -- but none from Florida. Robinson's commitment changes that, and it's a very good sign for Penn State going forward. Most Big Ten programs have expanded their recruiting presence in the southeast, including Michigan and Ohio State in recent years. Now Penn State is following suit.
New Lions defensive coordinator Ted Roof, a Georgia native who has spent much of his coaching career in the southeast, was Robinson's primary recruiter. Robinson committed to Penn State without even visiting the school.
O'Brien's first recruiting class at Penn State included players mostly from Pennsylvania and surrounding states, although the staff plucked quarterback Steven Bench out of Georgia. Penn State's nine verbal commitments for 2013 hail from five different states.