In the world of college football recruiting, this is like an Elvis sighting, like the president making a whistle stop downtown: Joe Paterno is coming to Pasco High.
Penn State is making a late push to lure coveted receiver Johnny Peyton and, according to Pasco coach Dale Caparaso, coaching legend Paterno will visit Dade City today, trying to convince the 6-foot-5 senior to become a Nittany Lion.
Peyton, still considering several schools with national signing day eight days away, has scheduled an official campus visit to State College, Pa., from Wednesday to Friday.
Paterno's personal appearance, a rare one so far south for the 77-year-old coach, is perhaps the biggest card played to date in the recruitment of Peyton, who also is considering Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Miami and South Florida. Peyton and Pirates coach Dale Caparaso talked to Paterno by phone on Monday, but meeting him in person will be a first for both.
"I've dealt with Penn State a lot over the years, but I've never dealt with the big man," said Caparaso, who was 10 years old when Paterno debuted as Penn State's coach in 1966.
Peyton has a busy week ahead _ West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez is due on the Pasco campus Wednesday and hosts Peyton for an official campus visit later this week. Peyton will fly directly from Penn State to West Virginia on Friday and spend the weekend with the Mountaineers.
The two visits come from schools that had not recruited Peyton until recently, when he backed off from an early oral commitment to Pittsburgh. Peyton visited Miami 10 days ago and had told recruiting site Rivals.com that he would accept a scholarship offer from the Hurricanes if they made one. Miami didn't offer him during the visit, instead waiting four days and offering him a scholarship after a Pasco basketball game Thursday, and that hesitation has Peyton rethinking his interest in going south.
"I think Miami is probably third on his list," Caparaso said. "I think Johnny's a pretty smart kid, and he went down there and they didn't offer him the first time, when everyone else has. They came back and offered him in a roundabout manner, and Johnny sensed that he was wanted more at other places than the feeling he got from Miami. I think that's an extremely mature decision on Johnny's part."
According to their rosters, Penn State has had only two players from Florida in the past five seasons, and one in 2003. The Nittany Lions have had more of a presence in the state recently, playing in two Outback Bowls and three times in Orlando since 1993.
Paterno, who has coached at Penn State since 1951, has 339 wins in State College and only four losing seasons in 38 years as head coach. More than 200 of his former players have gone on to play in the NFL, including four first-round picks in last year's draft. The Nittany Lions went 3-9 last fall, losing six of seven games, but Paterno _ as witnessed by today's visit _ hasn't given in to lingering public sentiment that he should retire.
Peyton, who could not be reached for comment, likely will still be courted when he returns to Dade City on Sunday. Caparaso expects a full lineup of coaches on campus Monday and Tuesday, making their last push before recruits make their decisions official Feb. 4.
"This is the way he should have done it from the beginning," Caparaso said. "He'll experience five recruiting visits, meet five different coaching staffs and teams, then he can make an extremely well-educated decision."