[Update]: Our good friends over at the Carnival noticed that there are some message board rumors starting to circulate about Penn State kicker Anthony Fera visiting Texas -- either the school or the state. In any case, there may be some legit interest on both sides here. --Wescott
[Update]: ESPN Horns Nation is reporting that Fera has reached out to Texas:
If he wants to come, take him. --Wescott
In the aftermath of the NCAA curb-stomping Penn State with serious sanctions resulting from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, one of the major storylines has been the availability and pursuit of the 85 scholarship players for the Nittany Lions, each of whom will have immediate eligibility should they choose to transfer.
Naturally, Texas fans have been wondering if the Longhorns will get involved in attempts to shore up any weak spots with the 2012 team. However, there could be a major impediment -- while a Penn State transfer would not count against the overall scholarship limit, there is no room in the 2012 class after the gargantuan 28-man class signed in February. It's not yet clear whether or not the NCAA will allow teams to go over that yearly limit.
If not, this is a non-starter from the get go for Texas. If so, there are several positions at which Mack Brown's team could use help -- offensive tackle, tight end, and kicker.
Before moving on, it's also worth discussing the potential ethical considerations involved. Mack Brown weighed in on the topic at the Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday.
"The NCAA allowed it and the NCAA wants to give those kids the right to look around immediately," the Texas head coach said. "The timing is very difficult for everyone. Could you get them in school? Would they have transferable hours? There are coaches talking to those kids right now that are still on their campus. I don't think it would be considered unethical because the NCAA allowed it."
So it sounds like Brown wouldn't have any moral issues with pursuing players currently on the Penn State roster.
Without further ado, follow after the jump for a look at potential targets there.
The Longhorns could be in serious trouble at tackle if Donald Hawkins or Josh Cochran suffer injuries, something the team wasn't particularly prepared to deal with even before Paden Kelley quit football and Camrhon Hughes tore his ACL playing basketball.
The first name that jumps off the page is former Katy offensive tackle Kevin Blanchard, who is entering his redshirt freshman season and stands 6-7. He's listed at 275 pounds, so he may not be ready to play right away, but he obviously has ties to the Lone Star State. He was unrated by Rivals coming out of high school and his profile page doesn't list any offers at all, so he doesn't appear to have been a highly-recruited prospect.
Senior Adam Gress hasn't seen a lot of playing time in his career, but he apparently improved in the weight room enough during the offseason that he was able to elevate himself to the starting right tackle position by the end of the spring. At 6-5 and 306 pounds, he's one of the heavier tackles in a remarkably light-weight Penn State tackle group.
Another player who showed his potential value during the spring is sophomore Donovan Smith, the other hefty tackle on the roster at 6-5 and 310 pounds. Like Gress, Smith had to bide his time behind all the seniors on the Nittany Lion line last season, but he finished the spring as the leading candidate to start at left tackle in 2012.
Discussing the tight end position has become almost as tired as discussing the quarterbacks this offseason, but it remains a real need, especially for an in-line blocker who can hold his own at the point of attack in one-on-one blocking situations against defensive end, as co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin likes to have his tight ends execute those blocks. As a result, I've narrowed the list of potential targets only to those who have the height to succeed in those situations.
Listed as a senior, the 6-7, 277-pound Garry Gilliam likely isn't much of a receiving threat down the seam, but he has the pure size required for an in-line blocker. The fact he only has one career catch (for 21 yards) supports the observation about how much of a threat he is in the passing game. He's also coming off ACL surgery in 2010 that kept him out of the 2011 season due to an infection, so he could apply for another season of eligibility after the 2012 season.
Matt Lehman attended Shippensburg University and Penn State Harrisburg before making it to University Park. He's a 6-7, 250-pounder listed as a senior. After earning a roster spot from a tryout last spring, Lehman caught an 18-yard touchdown pass in the Nittany Lion spring game.
Early enrollee Jesse James was rated as the no. 3 tight end in the nation by MaxPreps after a senior season that saw him catch 36 passes for 463 yards. At 6-7 and 265 pounds, he has the necessary size (otherwise he wouldn't be on this list), participated in the Semper Fidelis All-American game, and caught two balls for 24 yards in the spring game.
Finally, the kicking game is one of the biggest question marks on the team entering the season and Texas is throwing some major numbers at the three phases of the kicking game -- Ben Pruitt, William Russ, Alex King, Nick Jordan, Nick Rose, and Michael Davidson. The coaches may believe that they can find a placekicker, a kickoff specialist, and a punter from that group.
If not, there's a player at Penn State who seems like a strong fit. His name is Anthony Fera, he's a senior, and he earned All-Big 10 honors last season for his punting, but also handled placekicking and kickoff duties. After connecting on 14-of-17 field goals last season, he was a semifinalist for the Groza award. Oh yeah, and he's from Texas, having graduated from St. Pius X in Houston.
If the Longhorns do opt to pursue one of more Penn State, they could be on list. Just don't expect any Longhorn coaches to join those milling around outside of the football facilities in Pennslyvania. Texas doesn't roll like that.