TWENTY-SIX SONS of his former Penn State players went on to become second-generation Nittany Lions for coach Joe Paterno.
Jonathan Warner won't be No. 27 on that list, but the 6-2, 200-pound wide receiver from Camas, Wash. - son of one of Penn State's all-time great running backs, Curt Warner - will start a new chapter in the school's thick book of fathers and sons tomorrow, national signing day, when he faxes his autographed grant-in-aid to the Lions.
It actually won't go directly to new coach Bill O'Brien, who is Indianapolis this week, completing his duties as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots as they prepare to meet the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. But someone will be on the receiving end of that fax and filling in for O'Brien until he takes over his new job on a full-time basis on Feb. 6.
Warner was in State College for his official recruiting visit and accepted O'Brien's offer to play for his father's alma mater on Jan. 22, the day Paterno, 85, passed away from complications of lung cancer.
"It was a happy day for me, and a sad day at the same time," Warner said from his home in Camas, a suburb of Vancouver, Wash. "Joe Paterno meant so much to so many Penn State people, including my dad. It'll be strange, [Paterno] not being there, but I'm looking forward to being a part of a new legacy. People tell me that coach O'Brien is a great guy and a great coach, and I hear the same things about coach [Stan] Hixon, the wide receivers coach."
That the younger Warner should choose Penn State is not really a surprise, given the Lions' history of family loyalty. Certainly Curt Warner, now 50, needs no introduction to Nittany Nation; he led the team in rushing in 1980, '81 and '82 and was an All-America in the last two of those seasons, helping Penn State to the first of its two national championships with a 27-23 victory over No. 1 Georgia and Herschel Walker in the 1983 Sugar Bowl.
What is surprising, however, at least to some national recruiting analysts, is that Penn State is taking a chance on Jonathan, who is rated a two-star player by all of the major services.
"He's a bit of a reach," judged Mike Farrell, of Rivals.com. "He's not really a Penn State-quality prospect. Had this been a regular recruiting year, Penn State probably would have offered him the opportunity to walk on. But this is not a normal recruiting year."
Because of the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, and the 45-day delay in hiring O'Brien after Paterno was fired on Nov. 9, the Lions have been scrambling to fill out a recruiting class that appears to be a bit short on numbers and elite recruits.
"The whole process was a little too slow," Farrell said. "JoePa was forced out with three games to play in the regular season, and the delay in naming Bill O'Brien really hurt their recruiting class. I think the delay hurt more than the scandal."
Eight of the 18 players expected to sign tomorrow (three-star tight end Jesse James was an early enrollee and already signed) gave oral commitments to O'Brien's staff from Jan. 6 on, but only one, defensive tackle Jamil Pollard, of Westville, N.J., is rated as high as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com.
But the mad scramble to fill holes in the class of 2012 did open the door for such players as Jonathan Warner, whose best offer until he was contacted by Penn State assistant coach Larry Johnson was from Montana State, of the Big Sky Conference.
"I guess I was leaning there," he said of the Bobcats, a Football Championship Subdivision team. "But mostly I was waiting around to see what came up. And when Penn State came into the picture, that was that.
"I attended the Notre Dame game in Beaver Stadium in 2007. It was really an exciting experience for me, because Penn State has such a great tradition, and because of what my dad did there."
Curt Warner, a No. 1 draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 1983 who played eight seasons in the NFL, said he's pleased Jonathan will play at Penn State.
"It's a special place," Curt said. "Some of my finest memories are of the time I spent in Happy Valley."
Bob Lichtenfels, of Scouts.com, said that Jonathan Warner could turn out to be a better college player than some have projected.
"He didn't play much his junior year because there were two senior wide receivers ahead of him," Lichtenfels noted. "He did have many stats or film to go by, but this year he did play and he had some good film. Penn State must have liked what they saw because they offered him."
The family of Joe Paterno intends to sell copies of the late coach's memorial service with the proceeds going to charity.