Potential PSU walk-ons enjoy 'Run-On Day'

Tom Devenney, a senior interested in a preferred walk-on spot, was walking briskly to the auditorium Sunday morning when he heard a voice call out his name: "Tom! Hey, Tom!"

A hand tapped him on his shoulder, and he swiveled around to see Bill Kavanaugh, the director of football operations, standing behind him.

"I was surprised. I can't believe he could recognize me from behind," said Devenney, an offensive guard out of Lititz (Pa.) Warwick.

Soon after, assistant coaches Mac McWhorter and Larry Johnson also approached him inside the Lasch Football Building to say hello. Ron Vanderlinden and John Butler also knew his name.

The Lititz product was one of 32 potential walk-ons there for "Run-On Day," a gathering designed to answer questions about just what being a Penn State walk-on means. And, like several others, he didn't expect to get the red-carpet treatment as a non-scholarship athlete.

"I thought, absolutely, it was great," agreed Ronny Tomasetti, a wideout from Scranton (Pa.) Mid Valley. "I left there with no questions. Everything I wanted to know or needed to know was basically answered without me asking anything."

Bill O'Brien addressed the group before lunch and stressed just how important walk-ons are to the success of this program. He maintained a serious tone but cracked a few jokes to keep the 20-minute talk light-hearted.

More than anything, recruits said, he tried his best to dispel any notion that walk-ons would be treated differently from scholarship players. Five-star recruits won't get the new cleats while a walk-on keeps his old pair, he told them.

"He echoed what the other coaches told us," Devenney said. "He said they don't favor anyone and that he's bringing us in because we're good football players and great students, and we're going to fight for spots. He said they're going to play the best people."

The high school seniors, a majority from in-state, broke up into two groups -- Blue and White -- and alternated between taking tours, watching film and listening to speakers. The Blue group spent about 45 minutes watching season highlights, along with short clips about training and lifting.

From there, they talked to academic advisers and toured the study lounge. They spoke with Craig Fitzgerald in the weight room, toured the training room and stepped inside the locker room before returning to the auditorium for O'Brien's speech and then sitting down to lunch.

"Lunch was a big favorite," said offensive guard Derek Yoder (Lewistown, Pa./Mifflin County). "It was nice to sit down and talk to Coach Mac. It was just cool to basically have a one-on-one because there were like five or six of us there, so it was easier to get a lot of information."

Yoder said he called several friends and family members afterward to tell them what they missed. From the sound of their voices, he could tell they were a little jealous.

"I was really happy I went," Yoder said. "Just to be chosen for that is pretty cool."

Added Devenney: "Yeah, it was an amazing experience. The coaches were just incredible."