Gbadyu changes mind, wants Lions not Tigers

Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005

When Quince Orchard High senior Bani Gbadyu returned from his official campus visit to Louisiana State University at the end of the summer, he took a leap of faith. Though Georgia and Penn State were high on his list, he attended the Tigers’ game against Florida while in Baton Rouge, the atmosphere dazzled him, and when he returned to Gaithersburg, he verbally committed to play football at LSU next fall. As his senior season progressed, however, Gbadyu began to have doubts.

‘‘When he went to LSU, that was the first college football game he had ever been to,” Quince Orchard coach Dave Mencarini said. ‘‘I think that experience swayed him. Then he went to Penn State in October, and he just said he had a different feeling. It just felt right.”

With that feeling in mind, Gbadyu made a difficult decision, and this week informed LSU that he had changed his mind. Instead of playing at Death Valley next year, Gbadyu will go to school in Happy Valley to learn at the feet of one of college football’s legends, Joe Paterno, as a member of the Nittany Lions. It was not a decision made in haste.

‘‘Bani, his dad and I have been involved in this decision every step of the way,” Mencarini said. ‘‘Even after he had made his verbal commitment [to LSU] he continued to be recruited by all three schools. Ultimately, he felt like Penn State was the best decision. He didn’t want to string Georgia and LSU along, so right after he let our team know at our postseason banquet [on Sunday], we let those schools know.”

Gbadyu, who has been recruited to play linebacker in college, now will attend the one school known in college football circles as ‘‘Linebacker U”. The Penn State tradition is deep at the position, from Jack Ham, who later starred on the Pittsburgh Steelers ‘‘steel curtain” defense in the 1970s, to Shane Conlan and Andre Collins in the 1980s to former Nittany Lion and current Washington Redskin Lavarr Arrington. In return, the Nittany Lions gain a player that made a big impression on his Montgomery County foes this season, on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and was a major reason that the Cougars (10-2 this season) advanced to the 4A West Region Final. In their most successful season since winning the 1991 4A state championship, Gbadyu — who missed all or parts of four games this season due to both a nagging hamstring injury and the fact that he was rested in some blowout victories — managed to average 5.6 yards a carry while rushing for 862 yards and 16 touchdowns. Defensively, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound linebacker was even more impressive. While opponents tried to shift their offense away from him on the field, Gbadyu still managed to amass 65 tackles (including six for losses) and two sacks, while forcing five fumbles. However, getting playing time at Penn State early on was never a guarantee.

‘‘Getting on the field early is probably a five [on a scale of 10] at Penn State, when it might have been a nine at LSU,” Mencarini said. ‘‘But, I have to give credit to Bani because he made a very mature decision. He said to me that he knew football was not guaranteed, and that he was an injury away from being a regular student. Making this decision [to go to college] was not just about football. Bani thought he fit in on Penn State’s campus and could really see himself being happy there.”

Not that this decision did not cause some angst to Gbadyu and his coach. Though a verbal commitment is not binding, the call to LSU’s coaching staff was a hard one to make. According to Quince Orchard athletics director Mike Lanahan, the Tiger coaching staff, including head coach Les Miles, planned on coming to Gaithersburg later this week in a last ditch effort to entice Gbadyu, but Mencarini dissuaded them.

‘‘You know, I told them that he was pretty solid on this decision. LSU handled it well. They were first class all the way, from the minute they started recruiting him. I am one of those people that believes that you should follow through on your commitments,” Mencarini said. ‘‘But, the amount of pressure and stress that Bani had on his life was tremendous, and he struggled with this choice for a long time. In the end, it was about a 17-year-old kid and his happiness. Bani feels like Penn State will make him a better man.”