- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Penn State scandal isn't going away any time soon, and it could affect several areas of the Nittany Lions football program, including recruiting.
Colleague Jared Shanker of ESPN Recruiting, who covered Penn State football until last year for The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News, checked in with several Lions recruits during the weekend. The good news for Penn State: They're still on board.
O'Connor told Shanker he discussed the situation with his parents and still has every intention of being in State College next fall -- even if Joe Paterno is no longer Penn State's coach.
"You go to a school based on coaches, but then again you don't," said O'Connor, who officially visited Penn State in September and won't make it back to the campus before enrolling. "They could be gone tomorrow. No matter what, if coach Paterno is there or not, I still love Penn State."
Other recruits like athlete Armani Reeves echoed the sentiment about Paterno. The bigger issue could be if the scandal leads to major changes throughout the staff of assistants, who do the direct recruiting for Penn State.
If Paterno leaves for any reason, Reeves said he would still be solid. If the rest of the staff is also forced out or a new coach doesn't retain them -- the likely scenario -- Reeves could open things back up.
"Definitely," Reeves said when asked if he would be forced to reconsider if assistant coach Bill Kenney, his lead recruiter, was let go.
The recruits Shanker talked with seemed to have different levels of knowledge about the case. Linebacker recruit Camren Williams told Shanker, "It was the old coach [Jerry Sandusky] and coach Paterno actually turned him into the athletic director," Williams said. "He did his job. It's the AD under investigation for lying and not turning him in. I'm not concerned at all."
While Penn State's current commits are on board, a big question is how all of this affects the team's future recruiting.
Arguably Penn State's biggest recruiting target is Noah Spence, a defensive end from Harrisburg, Pa., rated as the nation's No. 4 player in the 2012 class by ESPN Recruiting. Spence has shut down his recruitment until after the football season but is considering Penn State and many other top programs.
"They're a very spiritual family, and Noah Spence's dad puts a high emphasis on character," Shanker told me Monday. "I can only this having a huge impact with Greg Spence, Noah's dad. The first thing he always says is he's a man of God, and he places a lot of emphasis on moral character. When I talked to him back in August, I don't think he mentioned Joe Paterno's coaching once. It was more about the person Joe is. Even though Joe's been cleared legally at this point, things are very up in the air."
Another factor is that Penn State's recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach, Mike McQueary, reportedly was the former graduate assistant who reported an alleged sexual assault involving Sandusky to Paterno in 2002.
"That's huge," Shanker said. "He's going to be the first one usually [recruits] can contact. He might not end up being the lead recruiter, but in most instances he's the guy to initate contact with recruits or their parents. That’s going to be something parents are going to ask. They're going to want to know what happened."
Questions also likely will be asked of other assistants who were on staff in 2002, including top recruiters like defensive coordinator Tom Bradley.
Shanker said many of the recruits he spoke to have been told that if Paterno were to step down -- Paterno's contract ends after this season -- a member of his staff would take over. The big factor going forward, if there are changes, is how dramatic those changes are.
"All of them didn't seem concerned about wholesale changes to the staff," Shanker told me. "If Paterno were to leave, that was pretty much a non-factor for them. They were building their relationships with the assistant coaches. If the assistants leave, they would have to reevaluate things."
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