Recruiting postgraduate prospects has been the exception rather than the rule for the Penn State football coaching staff through the years. While pursuing high school athletes continues to be a priority for Bill O'Brien and his staff, the Nittany Lions are taking a much harder look at prep school and junior college prospects these days.
Scholarship limits -- State is only allowed 15 men per class for the next four years -- have caused PSU's new staff to be creative. And that is not only with scholarship targets, but also potential walk-ons.
That's where D.J. Crook comes in. Standing 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, the quarterback originally from Barnstable High (Hyannis, Mass.) spent last season year at Worchester Academy looking for increased visibility. He found it when Penn State came calling. Now, he's set to enroll at PSU in January.
We caught with Worchester coach Tony Johnson to get the lowdown on Crook and his recruitment by Penn State. See what Johnson had to say below.
FOS: What do fans need to know about D.J.? What kind of skill set does he bring to the table?
Johnson: He's got a very good arm, he can make all the throws. Physically, he's a good-looking kid and a decent runner. We run the ball a little bit, and he got comfortable running here after being a pure pocket passer with three- and five-step drops in high school. So he has that as a strength now.
FOS: What throws does D.J. make best and how did he fit into your offense at Worchester?
Johnson: D.J. is good with the quick out, the 30-yard strike type throw, and actually is very good with backside throws and shades. We ran a lot of dig routes, and he's really learned how to run those and he's figured out the timing of the dig route and when to throw. We run more of an open style with him, because he has a very good arm. We were more of a running style, spread-option type of offense before D.J. got here. But we changed that a little bit to adjust to his strength and featured more throwing than running this year.
FOS: When did Penn State start recruiting D.J. and which coach has been in contact with him most?
Johnson: Penn State tight ends coach John Strollo has been in contact with us most. He really started getting more interest in D.J., and invited him to come down for the Wisconsin game the weekend after Thanksgiving. A lot of schools wee interested, but Penn State, they told us they were bringing in some quarterbacks in the spring, which we felt was a great opportunity for him to gets some reps and just see what happens.
FOS: What made D.J. choose to go the postgraduate route?
Johnson: The idea of going to postgraduate school in New England serves two functions. The first is academics, and then the athletic part of it, too. Both of them can help a player mature, and academically D.J. is a very good student. But you could tell that he needed time to get to a level of an FCS or FBS program. He was recruited by a lot of I-AA schools out of high school, but felt he could go higher if he had more time to mature and get better.
FOS: You said there's an interesting part of D.J.'s recruitment thanks to a fellow competitor on the field. Can you explain more?
Johnson: Sure. The ironic thing about him choosing Penn State is that a quarterback we played against, Austin Whipple from Salisbury School in Connecticut, is also walking on at Penn State. He and D.J. are going to room together. Salisbury beat us 27-21, and D.J. threw the ball all over the place in that game and ran well, too. We just ran out of time, but frankly, it was one of his best games.”
FOS: Finally, where has D.J. matured and improved most since he first came to you at Worchester compared to where he'll be when he gets on campus at University Park?
Johnson: His release had to shorten up, and he had to learn how to run and extend plays, and get out of plays when they broke down and actually be a running threat. He did a very good job with improving both of those, especially the running part, and trusted his legs more and his ability to read the defense.