Thursday, January 31, 2013
The One Who Got Away: Dan Kendra
By Josh Moyer
When college coaches gazed across the field at Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholic's quarterback, they saw visions of Joe Montana and Joe Namath.
When the ball rolled off high schooler Dan Kendra's fingertips, fans thought of Dan Marino. When he circled his team in the huddle, he seemed like Jim Kelly. In 1994, Pennsylvania's favorite son was just 18 years old -- but he was already counted on to be the next great signal-caller. A surefire Hall of Famer whose father joked that even Joe Paterno wouldn't be tempted to turn this stout athlete into a linebacker.
Before the digital age, back in the era of pogs and Saturday morning cartoons, Kendra might have been the most recognizable high school player in the world. He was USA Today's Offensive Player of the Year, ESPN's Player of the Year, Parade's Player of the Year and SuperPrep's Player of the Year. He was everybody's player of the year.
Dan Kendra was a physical specimen who eventually ended up playing fullback at Florida State.
He was Tom Lemming and Max Emfinger's No. 1-rated quarterback. And National Recruiting Advisor also ranked the square-chinned kid -- who threw for 1,988 yards and 21 TDs and rushed for another 718 yards as a senior -- as the top QB in the country.
And, in December 1994, he was all Penn State's.
"When I sat down and added everything up, it totalled up Penn State," Kendra told the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call on Dec. 8, 1994, a day after his oral commitment. "It's just a great situation for me to be in. Football has always been a family thing for me. I really play for my family and I want them around to share the happiness.
"I just felt comfortable there ... they're the same type of people that I am."
Kendra's hometown newspaper heralded the commitment as the most important addition by Penn State in a decade. It was already widely believed that Kendra would redshirt his freshman season, play behind Wally Richardson, then start for three years. Surely, national titles -- or at least a conference title or two -- were bound to follow.
The quarterback who ran a 4.43-second 40, who could leap 39 inches and who could launch a football so far he was nicknamed "The Rifleman," well, he was a can't-miss prospect. Several reports at the time indicated he could toss a pigskin about 80 yards.
Penn State fans were ecstatic over the addition. Kerry Collins had just led the Nittany Lions to a perfect regular season, and the future appeared bright. Happy Valley was certainly living up to its namesake.
But, a month after that commitment, after PSU stopped recruiting other quarterbacks, Kendra had a change of heart. Kendra's father told several media outlets his son might have committed too soon, maybe in an effort to quiet down his recruiting process. He seemed eager to have it all over with and might have rushed to a decision.
The kid who owned a pet alligator -- and once owned a piranha -- was now talking a lot to Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. And, eventually, he spurned Paterno for the other longtime head coach. His NFL future would be brighter with the Seminoles, he reasoned. Kendra also preferred FSU's uniforms and liked that the campus wasn't too far from the ocean.
Nittany Nation did not take kindly to the news. Even Kendra's own high school coach didn't like it.
"When you give your word, you keep your word," Bob Stem told The Reading (Pa.) Eagle on Jan. 13, 1995. "A lot of things changed for the Penn State program when he committed. People they were pursuing are no longer being pursued because of Danny. That's my biggest point of contention. I'm looking at it from a moral position."
Kendra ended up settling in Tallahassee, Fla., and he was widely coveted early on. He sat behind Thad Busby and Danny Kanell on the depth chart, but he was in line to be at least a two-year starter.
He did well in his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, throwing 12 TDs and three interceptions on a part-time basis. But his bright future ended when he tore his ACL in the spring game of his redshirt junior season, when he was on pace to start. Chris Weinke took over and won the Heisman the next season; Kendra was moved to fullback and rushed 36 times for 82 yards as a fifth-year senior.
Adding insult to further injury, Kendra made national headlines in the summer of 1998 when he received 28 stitches in his nose, chest and stomach after a homemade bomb exploded in his apartment. He told The Tallahassee Democrat he mixed the chemicals together out of curiosity.
"We don't want him messing around with explosives anymore," then-quarterbacks coach Mark Richt told the Democrat.
Meanwhile, back at Penn State, the Nittany Lions finished with at least nine wins every season that Kendra would've been there. Mike McQueary and Kevin Thompson took over after Richardson graduated. Although their stats weren't flashy, Penn State still finished each season in the top 20.
Who knows what Kendra would have done at Penn State? The only thing that's certain is his decommitment was among the most memorable in Nittany Lions history.