STATE COLLEGE — They started at a podium, being introduced by none other than Matt McGloin.
Connor McGovern and his father, Jim, took their turn in the spotlight at Penn State’s signing day celebration Wednesday.
McGloin, the former West Scranton and PSU quarterback, called on the family to speak. It was dad who gave the official welcome to the Nittany Lions’ recruiting class.
“Wow,” Jim McGovern said. “As a Pennsylvania father, educator and coach, there is simply no prouder moment in my life to announce … Connor McGovern, my son, from Lake-Lehman High School in Lehman, Pa.”
Connor has been on the Penn State campus for three weeks, having graduated from Lake-Lehman a semester early to get a head start on his college career. But this was National Signing Day, and the offensive lineman joined in the festivities.
As the upstairs lobby of the team’s Lasch Building headquarters cheered, both McGovern men approached Lions coach James Franklin for a hug.
Then, in one final move, Jim McGovern got to put his son’s placard on the team’s recruiting board — a symbolic end to an incredibly hectic month.
After the holidays, Connor McGovern and his parents spent a week in San Antonio for a nationally televised football all-star game. From there, it was an early morning flight to Philadelphia.
Next was a trip up the Northeast Extension back home to Luzerne County, where he had to quickly pack up his life before getting back in the car for another two-hour drive to State College to make it in time for orientation.
“This has been crazy,” McGovern said while still in Texas. “I haven’t stopped the past couple weeks.”
A whirlwind month that finally got him to Penn State on Jan. 10 is only the beginning of a year that could see him contributing to the Lions’ offensive line this fall — very much a rarity for a freshman.
“The fact that he graduated early and is on campus, is going to give him a chance,” Franklin said Wednesday. “It’s hard to play on the O-line as a freshman. But the fact that he’s here six months early and is already a big, physical strong guy, it gives him a shot. He’s a unique guy.”
Indeed, most high school linemen aren’t as advanced physically as McGovern is at age 18. Penn State listed him at 6-foot-5, 312 pounds when adding him to the roster.
Most teenagers don’t have the advantage of getting into a college training program a semester early to go through winter workouts and spring practice with their new team.
“It’s tough for anyone,” said Steve Wiltfong, national recruiting director for the 247Sports network that scouted McGovern in San Antonio. “But he’s enrolling early and getting in those 15 practices, getting to know the guys and everything.
“A lot of guys aren’t as ready physically to play as Connor. They’re not physically ready to go. He looks ready to go,” Wiltfong added. “He needs another semester, getting into the strength and conditioning program at that time. But he’s close right now, and that should give him the boost he needs to be ready in September.”
If he’s ready in 2016, McGovern would be the first true freshman offensive lineman to play for Penn State in eight years.
Of course, much could happen over the next eight months, and there has already been one curveball thrown his way. Offensive line coach Herb Hand left to take a job at Auburn on the same day McGovern started classes. Franklin hired his replacement, Matt Limegrover, less than 48 hours later.
The next weekend, Limegrover was at the McGovern’s home in Larksville, where he spent an entire morning talking to the family.
“I think his home visit was four hours,” Franklin said. “And it wasn’t four hours of recruiting. It was four hours of eating Polish sausage and kielbasa and laughing and (Old Forge) pizza. Just enjoying yourself.”
Helping McGovern is the fact that he’s not the only one going through this frantic period. Three other recruits in his class also enrolled this month, including his roommate Jake Zembiec, a quarterback from Rochester, New York.
While McGovern was making his mad dash to get to State College, Zembiec was set to reach campus the day before to begin setting things up.
“We’re all really close right now,” McGovern said of his fellow freshmen. “Especially the guys who are early enrolling. We’re all close friends and that’s a big help.”
Regardless of how long it takes McGovern to see the field, his new coaches were thrilled that he played a large role in keeping his 2016 recruiting class together.
With the Lions losing games — and assistant coaches — from November to January, Penn State saw a half-dozen recruits switch their pledges and sign with other schools on Wednesday.
McGovern, meanwhile, showed up at all seven of the Lions’ home games in the fall, making the two-plus hour trip regardless of kickoff time.
“He’s one of the leaders in this class,” said Penn State assistant Josh Gattis, who oversees recruiting on offense. “Connor never wavered one time from his commitment. He committed to us. His family committed to us.
“We’re excited about Connor. Just a great kid from a great family.”