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Thursday, February 28, 2013
Opportunity persuades Vadas to run on

By Josh Moyer

Luke Vadas (Shaker Heights, Ohio/University High) straightened his back as his eyes followed Bill O'Brien in Penn State's meeting room.

He wasn't yet sure which school he might choose. Marshall offered a scholarship, but the wideout visited campus and just couldn't see himself there. He later said it was a three-way tie then between Pitt, Penn State and Ohio State -- three schools that extended walk-on invitations.

But, dressed there in black sweats and a gray hoodie last month, he said he realized Penn State was the right destination once O'Brien ended with this line: Someone in this room will run down the field on the opening kickoff against Syracuse on Aug. 31.

The Panthers and Buckeyes couldn't offer that same opportunity. They couldn't match O'Brien's impassioned pleas from Run-On Day. So, Vadas said, he was "95 percent certain." He was heading to Penn State.

"That just gave me chills," Vadas said, "because I knew I was going to be that one. That's how I was raised, to be that exception. I was never given anything, and I don't want to be given anything. I want to earn it. So hearing that from him, my mind was made up."

After receiving his Penn State acceptance, the kid who grew up catching passes from his older brother finally announced earlier this week that he's now a Nittany Lion. He endured the inevitable quips about Penn State and the sanctions, but he didn't care. His dad hails from Latrobe, Pa., so he grew up as PSU fan and a Steelers fan in Ohio State country. He was already accustomed to the chatter.

Some of his classmates -- who live less than a three hour's drive from The Horseshoe -- took to yelling some "O-H!", "I-O!" chants. But the 6-foot-2, 180-pound prospect brushed them off. He was fixated on playing as a true freshman, walk-on or not, and a few OSU fans weren't going to convince him otherwise.

"It was tougher when I was younger, but it doesn't bother me now," he said. "I'm just happy to have the opportunity to play big-time football. And, with the sanctions, I feel like I'm going to have the same opportunity as everyone else."

Vadas hauled in 79 receptions for 1,045 yards and nine touchdowns this season -- so he was receiving plenty of FBS attention and opportunities elsewhere. Penn State assistant Stan Hixon visited his school three times, and Vadas felt an instant connection with the wide receivers coach.

If O'Brien's words persuaded him to become a Nittany Lion, then Hixon's visits certainly reassured him.

"He showed a lot of interest in me. Well, it was more like caring," he said. "He was almost like a second father. He was honest and upfront, and I really liked his open-door policy. You could talk to him about everything, and that was important to me because I wanted to go to a school where it would be like a brotherhood. Out of all the schools, I got that the most at Penn State."

Penn State's staff is still finalizing its preseason roster, so Vadas isn't yet sure whether he'll join the team over the summer. But Bill Kavanaugh, Penn State's director of player personnel, told him he should plan on being a part of the 105-man roster.

Regardless, Vadas plans on being there for opening kickoff. He's already working on gaining 10-15 pounds, and Aug. 31 can't come soon enough.

"Once I got on campus and heard about that opportunity, my mind was made up," he said. "I can't wait."