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Monday, June 24, 2013
Camp notebook: Canadians, 'ships & LBs

By Josh Moyer

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State hasn't built a pipeline to Canada just yet -- but it's certainly starting to form a reputation there.

First, tailback Akeel "Big Maple" Lynch, a Toronto native, joined the team. Then Ottawa native and ESPN 150 QB Michael O'Connor committed. And, over the weekend, two more Canadians headed to Happy Valley and impressed at Saturday's advanced skills camp.

Akeel Lynch
Akeel Lynch could have started a pipeline of Canadians to Penn State.
2016 DB Patrice Rene (Peterborough, Ontario/St. Peter) stood out as one of the top cornerbacks, and 2017 DB Jonathan Sutherland (Gloucester, Ontario/Lester B. Pearson) held his own against players who sometimes had three more high school seasons under their belts. All in all, it was a great performance by the Canadians -- especially considering the two are relatively new to playing in the secondary.

"It was kind of a natural progress for them," said Gridiron Academy owner Victor Tedondo, who trains the pair and also taught O'Connor. "Jonathan was impressive, but he's still learning the position. And Patrice, he used to play quarterback. This is his first year as a DB.

"When I first moved Patrice," Tedondo said with a laugh, "he was kind of mad about it. Now he loves it."

Penn State's coaches kept a close eye on both prospects. The pair practiced with the first grouping during 7-on-7s, and Rene made the play of the day late in the afternoon. Rene shadowed the receiver on a short route and, anticipating the throw, he stepped in front of the intended target at just the right time for the pick.

The watching crowd, mostly parents who brought along lawn chairs, let out a collective "whoa" while Rene quietly returned to his spot on the field. He already holds offers from Syracuse and Akron, and he's well-aware of PSU's early reputation with Canadians.

"It's one of my top schools right now," Rene said. "Penn State is just a great school all-around, but what really caught my eyes is just the DB coaches. They were really good, and they told me they like the potential they see."

Sutherland was twice beaten deep -- but once was against a rising senior. Plus, Sutherland pointed out, he took up defensive back about, oh, a couple weeks ago.

He routinely hung in with the older players, and it was clear PSU's coaches thought highly of him. "You're going against an eighth-grader!" yelled one coach, teasing 2016 WR Cam Chambers. "You're going against an eighth-grader!"

PSU invited the Canadian pair down to a game this season, and Tedondo said they'll undoubtedly be back. They all enjoyed the trip, which was capped off by a tour and a meet-and-greet with -- who else? -- Lynch.

"[Lynch] gave me a lot of tips on what to expect, and he said a lot of great things about Penn State," Rene said. "And Mikey O'Connor committed there, too, so you can definitely feel the vibe about Penn State."

New scholarships: Several campers left Penn State with offers, including 2016 DT Rashan Gary (Scotch Plains, N.J./Scotch Plains-Fanwood), 2015 WR Van Jefferson (Brentwood, Tenn./Ravenwood), 2015 OL Austin Clark (Lexington, Va./Rockbridge County), 2015 OL Tristen Hoge (Pocatello, Idaho/Highland) and 2015 CB Kareem Ali Jr. (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek).

Although it was difficult to see the linemen from the sideline, Gary absolutely demolished several offensive linemen who took him on. He was one of the younger players there, but it certainly didn't look like it. Ali Jr. also said he ran a laser-timed 4.39-second 40 in the morning.

Hoge said Penn State and BYU are at the top out of the five offers he holds already.

"I'm trying to make as many visits as I can, but I made these guys a priority," Hoge said. "I've always liked Penn State, even growing up in Idaho. It's a great school, and even though some people talk about all this negative stuff about them, I'm like, 'Look at their team. Look at their coaching staff.' "

Linebacker U: Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden appeared to closely follow three players Saturday -- 2014 LB David Norris (Madison, Ala./Bob Jones), 2014 LB Donte Raymond (Piscataway, N.J./Piscataway) and 2015 LB Chad Smith (Sterling, Va./Dominion).

Raymond has a Delaware offer and said he wasn't interested in being a walk-on. Norris holds a UAB offer and wouldn't rule out possibly walking on -- but he's hoping an offer could come down the road.

Norris said he ran the 40 in a laser-timed 4.5 seconds and boasted a 10-foot broad jump. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson first spotted him months ago during a trip to see Parker Cothren and asked him to come up to camp.

"That was a great camp," Norris said. "That was probably one of the best camps I've ever been to."

Out of the trio, Smith might be the most intriguing. He was told after camp that PSU will be watching him during his junior season. He holds an offer from Charlotte right now, but he's a 6-foot-4 athlete who focused on being a receiver at previous camps and just recently switched that focus to linebacker. (He started both ways as a sophomore.) PSU clearly liked what it saw, and it's definitely worth following him.

Position change: Terry Swanson (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa) knew there wasn't enough room in Penn State's class for another running back. So, at the staff's request, he decided to try out at defensive back.

His father said teams are about 60/40 when it comes to recruiting him at tailback compared to DB, and Swanson was pleased with his performance Saturday.

"We kept in contact, and they said they wanted me to come out at a camp to see me on the defensive side of the ball," Swanson said. "I feel like I did great. I learned a lot, and they said I just did great."

He's the top tailback prospect on Toledo's board, and bigger offers could be on the way after hitting up summer camps and turning in a solid senior season.

Other notes: 2014 DB Jermaine Norris (Philadelphia/Mastery Charter) was among the DBs who impressed and, at one point, he came down with two interceptions in a span of eight minutes. ... 2015 QB Breon Clark (Fairless Hills, Pa./Pennsbury) threw very well on the run. He threw a tight spiral and separated himself from many of the other quarterbacks. He previously ran a laser-timed 4.74-second 40 at a Nike camp. ... 2014 DT Jaleel Fields (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa) did not attend.