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Penn State sets up camp in SEC territory

By Chris Hays Orlando Sentinel (MCT) • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:39 PM

DELAND, Fla. — When Penn State coaches decide to act as guest instructors at Stetson’s football camp in the heart of SEC territory, the two programs weren’t looking to skirt any NCAA rules or stir up a controversy.

But if there is controversy to be stirred, someone will be happy to grab a big spoon.

“Well, yes, everybody has their own little deal and when it becomes an advantage for you, then they’re not OK with it. Now if it’s to their advantage, then everything becomes OK,” said Stetson head coach Roger Hughes, who is entering his second season. “I think there has been a bit of a backlash, NCAA-wise, so we’ll see if the rule remains that allows us to do it. There may be some modification of the rules to not allow this in the future ... we’ll see.”

NCAA rules restrict coaches from hosting camps far from their campus, but Penn State didn’t officially host a camp in the state of Florida.

Wednesday at Spec Martin Stadium, everything was well within the NCAA guidelines that allow coaches to be guests at other school’s camps. Stetson just had a lot of guests. Penn State head coach James Franklin brought his entire staff to DeLand for the one-day, two-session instruction. The Nittany Lions staff members were guests at Georgia State on Monday.

“Every camp that I’ve run, even when I was at Princeton, we’ve had coaches from other schools come. It just gives coaches a chance to get things evaluated,” Hughes said. “When Penn State approached us about the possibility, it just seemed like a no-brainer to have someone of that quality come down. . . .

“It’s going to attract higher-caliber athletes and also, as we’re starting this program out, it gets our name out there among the elite in college football. It’s also always great for our staff to learn from theirs, so it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Hughes had a connection to the Penn State staff via director of player personnel Andy Frank, whom Hughes coached during his time at Princeton.

Franklin declined comment about what the Nittany Lions gain from combining with Stetson for the camp, but the obvious benefits are that it gets Franklin’s entire staff on the ground in the football talent-rich state of Florida.

“Everybody does,” Hughes said when asked if coaches were looking for an advantage in recruiting Florida, one of the top three states in the nation for producing college football prospects. “Not only do people want to get in here and recruit, but a lot of teams have called us to play because they want to get that foothold down here in one of the best markets in the country.”

Penn State’s presence brings in higher-profile recruits and Stetson is able to show off its facilities to prospects who might not have otherwise attended a Hatters camp.

New Smyrna Beach offensive tackle Jalen Merrick, one of Central Florida’s top prospects who has scholarship offers from 32 Football Bowl Subdivision members, said he found the Stetson/Penn State camp to be a great learning experience.

“I probably would have still come here, anyway, just to get better,” said Merrick, who is ranked No. 7 on the Orlando Sentinel’s 2015 Central Florida Super60 and has offers from all seven Florida FBS schools, but he lacks an offer from Penn State. “I definitely pulled a lot from this camp that I can take in all season. It was a real nice experience, and I really enjoyed (working with) the (Penn State) coaching staff.”

Merrick, a 6-foot-6, 310-pounder, gets around the football field pretty well given his size, and his agility always impresses coaches who see him for the first time.

Franklin pulled him aside after the camp and chatted briefly.

“He said he didn’t know I could move that way, being so big, and that kinda surprised me,” said Merrick, who ran a 5.27 40-yard dash during Wednesday’s camp. The sprint was matched by another highly touted offensive lineman Brendan Loftus of Tallahassee Godby.

While players like Merrick and Delray Beach American Heritage cornerback Desmond Cain have numerous offers, other players at the camp were looking for any kind of attention they could get. Winter Springs offensive tackle Bo Alexander is one who looks to be right on the cusp of earning his coveted first FBS scholarship offer.

“I know it’s coming. It’s coming soon,” Alexander said of that first offer. “I am frustrated and it’s been a long wait, since sophomore year. I just gotta keep on working.

“I gotta work on my technique and stuff, but it was good. We had good competition and I wish we could have done a lot more in the one-on-ones, but with the lightning we ended a little early.”

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