With his Nittany Lion squad having to deal with scholarship reductions over the next few years, Bill O'Brien and his staff are putting an emphasis on evaluating and targeting the right recruits and developing their non-scholarship players.
When you think of traditionally strong walk on programs, teams like Wisconsin and Nebraska come to mind. O'Brien has started to make calls to staffs and athletic directors at programs around the country with a rich history of developing walk-ons in an effort to ensure that him and his staff get the most out of their "run-ons" over the next few years.
O'Brien started calling his non-scholarship players "run-ons" earlier in the season in an effort to give them credit for the hard work and hustle that they exhibit year round.
“Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, those places have great traditions of run-on programs, and those guys they just have done an excellent job, whether it was Coach Pelini or Tom Osborne or Frank Solich when he was there. They've really been one of the pioneers for run-on-type programs in the history of college football.”
“I'm going to reach out to a few programs." O'Brien added in the Patriot News. "I'm going to leave that between myself and our staff right now but a few programs here in the off season. Personally I will reach out to some of those coaches or athletic directors and see how exactly they went about doing that. And I already have, I already have done that and will continue to do that.”
In the eyes of the staff at Penn State, developing their walk-ons into contributors will be the key to success in the immediate future.
Earlier in the year, secondary coach John Butler explained that the lower amount of scholarships is going to challenge the staff to evaluate talent like they never have before, and then ensure that they maximize that player's given abilities. They'll be looking for those scrappy overachievers, with a ton of Penn State pride, who have to work ethic to go from walk on to major contributor by sheer effort and will.
"The biggest thing about the sanctions is when we recruit over the next four years we’ve got to make sure that every kid we bring in we can maximize his ability. We as a coaching staff have got to be able to get every single ounce of talent from every single kid. There’s no room for error. In the past, if you missed on a guy, he transferred and you replaced him. We can’t do that."
The staff has done an outstanding job since their arrival of maxmizing the talent that they inherited in Happy Valley, and making the most out of a very challenging and unique situation. The next few off seasons will decide the shape of the program as they continue to move forward.
If the success that they've seen so far this season is any indication, the Penn State community has got the right staff (from top to bottom) for the challenge that lies ahead.