Penn State coaches rarely venture out to California on recruiting trips. So Tate Forcier came to them.
The San Diego area quarterback hit plenty of far-off locales with his father during his high school years, stopping in at various football camps throughout the college football landscape.
Including one in State College.
His performance there earned him the attention of quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno as well as scholarship offer from the Nittany Lions, who at that point hadn’t brought in a scholarship signal caller since Pat Devlin in 2006.
That was at the beginning of a complex shell game between Penn State and Michigan, both of which were pursuing Forcier and Virginia’s Kevin Newsome.
Both schools were in dire need of a mobile quarterback to run their respective offenses, having both struck out on Terrelle Pryor during the previous signing period.
Newsome initially committed to Michigan during his junior year, before Forcier had made a decision. But by the end of the summer in 2008, Newsome backed out of his pledge to the Wolverines, re-opening his recruitment and ultimately choosing Penn State shortly before enrolling there this past January.
Forcier quickly jumped on the opening left by Newsome and will start against the Lions on Saturday.
“Penn State was my top school besides Michigan,” Forcier said this week. “I’m excited to play against them.
“It was pretty close for me, you know. ... Me and my dad were going around to lot of conferences, including the Big Ten. We stopped by Penn State and they showed us a good time. ... I never made an official visit there, but I did take an unofficial there twice. When I came up for the camp, I met with the coaches and everything.”
Joe Paterno had a slightly different recollection.
Paterno chuckled when asked about his staff’s recruitment of Forcier, hinting that while Penn State may well have finished No. 2 on Forcier’s list, it was a distant second.
“We knew about him – we didn’t really recruit him,” Penn State’s coach said. “He really didn’t have a lot of interest in us, I don’t think.”
Of course, that wouldn’t prevent Paterno from singing the true freshman’s praises.
“He’s obviously playing very, very well as a freshman,” Paterno said. “And I think it’s a tribute to not only the people at Michigan and the kind of job they’ve done with him, but also to the high school coaches and his background where he came from, the kind of football he played.
“He comes from a family that has played a lot of football so I think he’s grown up with a lot of things that makes it easier, but he sure has done a great job for them.”
Indeed, Forcier and fellow rookie quarterback Denard Robinson are probably the two biggest reasons the Wolverines already have two more wins than they did all of last season.
When Rich Rodriguez took over as head coach before last season, he brought a radical change on offense along with him -- a spread-option scheme that requires a running threat at quarterback.
In other words, the polar opposite of what the Wolverines recruited under Lloyd Carr, Gary Moeller and Bo Schembechler. Ryan Mallett was such a player – a statuesque 6-foot-6 frame with an outstanding arm.
When Rodriguez took over, however, Mallett knew immediately he was a poor choice for the new offense and transferred out to Arkansas. That left a pair of pocket passers in Steven Threet and walk-on Nick Sheridan for 2008, which helps to explain Michigan’s miserable 3-9 season.
Not only can Forcier move very well, but he’s a solid passer to boot, hitting 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns through six games and a cameo appearance last week against FCS Delaware State.
More than that, he brings a swagger to the huddle that the Wolverines sorely needed after last year.
“He’s confident on and off the field,” said Mark Ortmann, Michigan’s senior starting left tackle. “For a freshman, it’s pretty remarkable to see that. ... Some people see that as cockiness, but as long as you can back it up ...”
Paterno confirmed Thursday on his weekly radio show that tailback Stephfon Green won’t make the trip with the team to Ann Arbor.
The sophomore re-injured his right ankle last week against Minnesota – the same ankle that required surgery in January after he dislocated it in the Rose Bowl against USC.
Brent Carter and Brandon Beachum are expected to be the top backups to Evan Royster against the Wolverines. Beachum had been practicing at fullback for much of the season, but has been at tailback the past few weeks while Carter has recovered from a knee injury.
To fill a gap, linebacker Michael Zordich has been getting reps at fullback, where he spent some time last year during his redshirt season.
3:30 p.m., ABC