Interest still rolling in for Zayd Issah

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Zayd Issah looked as if he had gone 12 rounds, not four quarters.

A pair of blood-colored splotches -- one near his left eye the size of a half-dollar -- begged for bag of ice or a crafty cut man. A lingering MCL strain caused him to walk with a slight limp. And yet Issah, a three-star athlete, couldn't help but smile after Saturday's overtime victory, his joy momentarily supplanting the pain.

"Oh, the pain's bad, it's bad -- and it'll be even worse tomorrow," Harrisburg (Pa.) Central Dauphin's two-way starter said with a laugh. "But I'm used to this. It's fine."

Issah's coach, Glen McNamee, believed such efforts -- eight tackles, a blocked punt while injured -- are what's attracted colleges from coast to coast. Oregon assistant Jerry Azzinaro visited practice last Tuesday, while Penn State has continually tried to garner a re-commitment from Issah.

Schools such as Alabama and Miami (Fla.) have also begun seriously evaluating the athlete, while Arizona State remains a strong contender.

"He has such a great presence, and he's such a good player," McNamee said. "Even if he's not 100 percent, he's making things happen. He could easily have rested up and come back in a few weeks, but he's playing to help our team win. That's how selfless he is."

Issah's stamina and dedication highlighted Saturday's contest. Late in the third quarter, after competing in every play to start the second half, Issah finally jogged to the sideline once his Rams team scored a touchdown. A green mouthpiece hung from his lips, and he nearly collapsed after taking one knee.

He unbuckled his chin strap and popped off his helmet so quickly it felt like a pit stop. A girl in a pink T-shirt handed him a water bottle, he took a few swigs and then -- an extra point and kickoff later -- he was ready to return.

"Good to go?" an assistant coach mouthed. Issah just nodded and jogged straight back to the huddle.

He already felt sore, his knee still weak, but the 6-foot-3 starter said he didn't mind playing at 70 percent. Actually, he said Saturday was a good day.

"I'd give it like 85 percent today," he said. "It's hurting me and all that, but I feel like I can help the team at 70 percent or whatever better than the next guy. I just have to fight it out."

That's something college coaches want to hear, but Issah has been slow to tell those same coaches the No. 1 thing they hope to hear -- that he's committing. Issah plans to take several official visits to better make a decision, but he's still ironing out the timing.

Oregon, Penn State and Arizona State are all probables for official visits, while Alabama and Miami (Fla.) would become likely destinations with scholarship offers.

Issah decommitted from the Nittany Lions in late August and said he wanted to watch how they'd rebound from the sanctions. He wasn't sold on whether they could remain near the top of the Big Ten standings, but he said that's no longer a concern. Penn State has won four straight.

"They settled my nerves with that part," he said. "So, it's a great opportunity, and it's still open. I'm still weighing that as an option for me."

Issah stood on the field in early September and said, if his recruitment ended that day (Sept. 7), he would have signed with Bill O'Brien's team right there. On Saturday, with a bruised face and a black knee brace, he was asked that same question.

He was ready to play hurt, ready to start both ways -- but he wasn't ready for that answer. He paused for a moment, winced slightly and just shrugged.