- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Penn State suffered its first decommitment since the firing of coach Joe Paterno when ESPNU 150 offensive tackle Joey O'Connor of Windsor, Colo., backed away from his pledge Thursday evening.
O'Connor, a four-star recruit that was the top prospect in the Nittany Lions' class, called the Penn State staff to let it know it was no longer in his "best interest considering the scandal and uncertainty surrounding the program."
"It was a definitely a decision I had to make," O'Connor said. "I just didn't know what would happen. The best interest for me now is to explore my options. The whole situation is tragic. My heart goes to the victims and families. They'll be in my thoughts and prayers."
O'Connor committed to Penn State in June after an unofficial visit to State College. He fell in love with the program, campus and coaches and committed to the Nittany Lions over offers from Arizona State, Arizona, California, UCLA, Colorado, Utah, Washington State, South Carolina, Tennessee and others.
O'Connor said he's disappointed things with Penn State didn't work out.
"I always believe in my heart that everything is meant to happen for a reason," he said. "Someday I'll look back at this and say it was best for me."
Though O'Connor decommitted, he isn't shutting the door on the Lions. But the Lions are in the same spot as everyone else.
"The playing field is wide open," he said. "Right now, the game is 0-0. I don't have any plans on who I want to pursue or know who will pursue me. As of now, I want to get through the season and go from there."
O'Connor talked with his parents last night made the decision to decommit after Paterno was fired. Even though O'Connor met Paterno only once, he said it was still tough to see Paterno go.
"It's hard to see that happen to him because I got to meet him and talk to him even if for a couple short hours," he said. "I felt he was a genuine person and the coaches are genuine people. It breaks my see that that's the way it had to happen."
O'Connor's Windsor team begins its playoff run this weekend, and their season could last until the first week of December.
Jared Shanker covers Midwest recruiting for ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.