Sweat dripped from De'Quan Render's forehead right before he was about to recline for another set of bench presses.
"De'Quan!" his coach yelled during a stuffy August afternoon. "Come over here."
The 2013 safety out of Cincinnati (Ohio) Northwest noticed a a stranger standing next to his coach, a shorter man wearing a navy-blue jacket. The man smiled, extended his hand and introduced himself as Penn State assistant John Butler.
"I was just getting interest from the Big East and the MAC, but when Penn State came out, that's when my eyes shot up," Render said.
The 6-foot, 171-pound DB continues to chat with Butler on the phone and over Facebook. Render said the secondary coach usually asks him about his grades, and Butler forwarded a message to him: If your ACT score is good, we'll give you a shot.
Render will miss the Ohio State game because he's scheduled to take that test Saturday. He'll awake with thoughts of that ACT score. He'll write term papers and skip over naps or snacks, because he knows that grade could mean a scholarship offer. He thinks about that ACT and playing for Penn State during practice and during school, day and night, at breakfast and dinner, "every single day."
"I like them not only because of who they are with their tradition, but I can relate to their coaches and fan base," Render said. "I'd love to be in front of that crowd. I think I would commit on the spot if they offered me."
Render holds just one offer, from Kent State, and he grew up as an Ohio State fan, but he feels a sense of loyalty to a Penn State staff that targeted him two months ago. He often hears off-color quips about the PSU scandal and questions why he'd consider a school with so many sanctions.
But Render says he has formed a trademark response whenever a classmate confronts him.
"Truly, I'm a student of the game. I don't love football because I love bowl games," he said. "I love football because I love to play. I want to step on that field and put a Penn State helmet on. I could care less about the bowl games."
The high school senior hasn't yet visited Penn State -- actually, he's never even stepped foot in Pennsylvania -- but he holds an open invitation to attend a game. He hopes to see one later in the season, maybe Indiana or Wisconsin, and he already finds himself daydreaming about Beaver Stadium.
"I've been looking at them. Those 'White Outs' are amazing; I can just see the crowd going wild when I make a big play," he said. "That's a big part of the school there, the fan base. No. 1 is academics, but I just love everything about it.
"It's a defensive school, and I'm a defensive player."
Until that ACT exam, Render will alternate between the gridiron and study hall. His football future is tied to the classroom and, perhaps, vice versa. So, in the two months since that memorable visit, Render has treated a PSU scholarship offer like a carrot on a stick.
"Some days it'll be rainy or I'll be sleepy and tired, but I'll be like, 'De'Quan, you're a D-IA recruit,' " he said. "That's what motivates me, really, my recruitment. I dream of being on that stage one day, so I know I have to get to work."