Recruiting Rivalry


Pinnix-Odrick, Muller emerge from different trails, explain decisions to commit to Rutgers over PSU


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Photo by Dennis Zuraw |

Junior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton is part of the line sophomore Julian Pinnix-Odrick joins in the Big Ten after missing 18 months with an ACL injury.


As a young teenager, Julian Pinnix-Odrick couldn’t get enough of Penn State.

Game after game, he made a living in Beaver Stadium cheering on his older half-brother, Jared Odrick, who starred as a defensive tackle with the Nittany Lions from 2006 to 2009 and now plays for the Miami Dolphins.

But years later, Julian gained perspective about his own career path.

“As we grow, we learn a little bit more,” said Julian, now a sophomore defensive lineman for the Rutgers football team. “When I was younger, I was like, ‘Wow, I want to be just like my brother, I want to do this and that.’ But as the process came, you’re looking at schools like, ‘Wow, I would’ve never thought to go here,’ but as you see things people have to offer and you learn a little bit more about yourself as you grow up, I think your mind changes.”

Photo: Dennis Zuraw

Sophomore right guard Chris Muller took overnight visits to Rutgers and Penn State the spring of 2011 before making a verbal commitment to the Knights. He said the fact Rutgers made the first offer and showed interest in him as a high school freshman was one of the determining factors.

A vast field of recruiters in spring 2011 included Michigan State and Syracuse, but the Montclair, New Jersey, native’s decision ultimately came down to Penn State and Rutgers.

Offered an offensive line scholarship by the late Joe Paterno, Julian instead chose Rutgers, the school that made the first offer that spring.

“Not to compare the two, but to a bigger extent, I felt a family atmosphere at Rutgers,” Julian said. “Not that I didn’t feel it anywhere else, but here is where I really got exposed to family, family, family, and I was wondering why they would preach so much about family. As I got to know the players and the coaches a little bit more, I could see a connection between them. It wasn’t just football, and as I’m here and I’m living through it, I can see it now.”

Most important, the decision came on his own terms.

Jared, who grew up about two hours away in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and shares the same father, offered general tips but never tried to pressure his brother six years younger into choosing Penn State.

“That’s one of the most important things that really stuck with me,” Julian said. “He’s like, ‘I love my team and my school, but you’re different, and I want you to go to these places and just take everything they have to say for what it is, and definitely consider everywhere they’re taking you. Don’t ever be one-sided or jaded about anything.’“

Now Julian, 18 months removed from an ACL tear that sidelined him his entire redshirt freshman season, is finally getting to carve his own football legacy.

Next comes a date with Jared’s alma mater tomorrow night in one of the biggest games in Rutgers history. The Big Ten awaits, and this time Julian won’t be a cheerleader.

“Now I have the opportunity to be in the spot where [Jared] was, and have the opportunity for my family to experience that type of fun and camaraderie again,” Julian said. “Being in the same position is definitely exciting.”

***

One of the most sought after offensive linemen in the class of 2012, Chris Muller was once “very serious” about sticking to his Pennsylvania roots and signing a scholarship with Penn State.

The sophomore right guard and former four-star recruit took multiple visits to Happy Valley his junior year at Boyertown High School. And he appreciated everything the Nittany Lions had to offer from the facilities, to the coaching staff, to the track record of successful local products.

But when it came down to Penn State, Michigan and Rutgers in June, the Knights’ interest in Muller as early as his freshman year resonated the most.

“I liked to stick to Rutgers because they were the first school that found me,” Muller said. “They were the first major program to really show interest in me. That meant a lot to me that they believed in me when I was young, before I had a lot of talent.”

Five months after Muller’s verbal commitment June 23, 2011, news broke of the Penn State child abuse scandal, leading to the eventual dismissal of Joe Paterno.

Muller insists that never altered his thought process for when the new coaching staff under Bill O’Brien tried to wrestle him away from Piscataway in the fall. After overnight visits to both schools in the span of a week in the spring, his mind was made up.

“I was such a strong commit to Rutgers that they knew that I wasn’t going to change my mind for anything,” Muller said.

Still, Muller never saw his college decision as a betrayal to Pennsylvania.

He says he never grew up rooting for Penn State or watching much college football until his recruiting process started. His home is also about half as far a drive to Piscataway as State College.

So when the newly joined Big Ten East foes go at it tomorrow night, it won’t be personal for Muller.

“I don’t think it’s extra motivation playing against Penn State. I just feel that we have to make our presence known in the Big Ten being that it’s the first Big Ten game,” Muller said. “First impressions do really matter. We have to show them that we’re ready to go blow-to-blow with any team and we’re not going to back down.”


Greg Johnson

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