By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —College football is big business. It’s a large corporate, multi-billion dollar industry filled with brand name schools that pose under the guise of educational bastions. It encourages seasoned coaches to fawn over 17- and 18-year-old high school kids for job security.
The need to win, and win now, is making the recruiting process of blue-chip players increasingly difficult—and highly uncomfortable. It’s created a pressure-filled environment, with college recruiters pushing targeted players sometimes to extremes by saying anything to sell their programs. To the prominent high school player being wooed, it’s not as glamorous and fun-packed as it may look from the surface.
Throughout his recruiting journey, Skyler Mornhinweg carried poise well beyond his years. The 18-year-old St. Joseph’s Prep star is headed to Florida he announced Wednesday, Feb. 1 during National Signing Day, ending what had been at times a very bumpy ride that began with Mornhinweg committing to Stanford early, veering to Penn State, and now landing in Gainesville, Florida.
In the meantime, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback had anonymous harassing letters sent to Prep for decommitting from Penn State and navigated through recruiter’s many contradictions, numerous sources confirmed. All the while, Mornhinweg, the son of Eagles’ offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, maintained a cool veneer most Division I quarterbacks would envy.
“I really can’t say enough good things about Sky and how he’s handled this whole situation,” said Prep coach Gabe Infante, a strong advocate for Skyler who played a hovering protective role throughout the process. “I hope he’s going to be very happy at Florida. I think we lose track of the fact that we’re talking about an 18-year-old kid here, but I’m happy the kid is entering a great situation.
“I’m ecstatic for Sky, but what is bothering me more and more is the process. No kid has ever gone through a situation like this in all the years that I’ve been coaching, and I’m really happy for the young man. He’s been through a lot and handled it with class. When Prep lost its head coach after Sky’s sophomore year, Sky was being pressured by outside sources to transfer, and we lost a bunch of kids. Sky stayed and handled it. I can’t really say enough good things about him. He’s shown nothing but class battling through adversity like he was Peyton Manning. I can’t wait for him to take the reins of that Florida program and shut everyone up that said he couldn’t play SEC football.”
It looked as if Mornhinweg was headed to Penn State. He had been promised by the late Joe Paterno that he would be the only quarterback Penn State was interested in for 2012. But when the Nittany Lions’ legendary coach was unceremoniously fired in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal on November 9, 2011, Mornhinweg began reconsidering his choice.
“I’m happy for Sky, I’m happy that he’s happy,” Marty Mornhinweg said. “But Sky would have probably still stayed committed to Penn State if Coach Paterno was still there. Everyone was very upfront with Sky during this process, and all of us had input. This was ultimately Sky’s decision, and he knows he made the right one.”
But it appears new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien and his staff fumbled Skyler away. For one, a number of sources confirmed, Penn State began getting nervous when they were told Skyler was thinking of visiting Florida and Virginia Tech. That prompted O’Brien to go after quarterback Steve Bench, from Cairo, Ga., who committed to Penn State last week. Bench originally committed to Rice, and is the only quarterback in Penn State’s 2012 recruiting class.
O’Brien also failed to uphold Paterno’s promise to Mornhinweg, as the only quarterback Penn State was interesting in. The seemingly glacial pace Penn State’s administration moved in hiring O’Brien didn’t exactly help, either. A number of highly touted area recruits did not feel comfortable committing to the Nittany Lions with such an unstable coaching situation after Paterno’s dismissal. By entering the recruiting picture late, O’Brien and his staff were forced to do things Paterno’s staff rarely did, if not at all, and that’s pursue players that had already verbally committed to other schools.
To his credit, Skyler remained above the fray, and is now headed to a nationally ranked program that has exceeded Penn State over the last decade.
“I need to look forward and I’m just happy to get this opportunity at Florida,” Skyler said. “My parents and Coach Infante were a huge help in dealing with this. I’m going to a great school, which I think is a great fit for me. Coach [Will] Muschamp is doing great things with the Florida program, and I really can’t wait to go down there and start.”
Skyler confirmed that he will be playing for Pennsylvania in the Big 33 game in June. In the meantime, he’s getting ready for baseball season this spring, closing a chapter in his life and landing in a good place.
“The bottom line is Sky is playing for a coach that really wants him,” Infante said. “Let someone tell me he’s not a competitor. Well, he’s going to play at not only one of the best schools in the country, but in the top conference in the country. Sky is going to be fine—he’s going to be great. I can’t wait to see him play at Florida.”