This is a story about the three Pittsburgh linemen headed to Penn State.

But it's also a story about Joe Paterno.

While the old football rivals don't play each other on the field anymore, there still are some heated battles for high school recruits, which at least gives fans something to argue about.

Which leads us to the linemen -- Luke Graham from Penn Trafford, Miles Dieffenbach from Fox Chapel and Thomas Ricketts from North Allegheny.

All three are big-bodied stars in the prestigious Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, known to many simply as the WPIAL.

That, of course, is Pitt's backyard.

But it is Penn State prime recruiting territory, too.

Even better?

Dieffenbach's father, George, not only played tennis at Pitt, but has been either the men's or women's tennis coach there for the past 33 years.

Better yet?

Rickett's father, also Tom Ricketts, was a standout offensive tackle for the Panthers and a first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers. And his mother was a star swimmer at Pitt. And his great-grandfather was one of the best offensive linemen the school had back in the 1930s.

So while many figured that Graham could easily end up at Pitt, many were beyond convinced that at least Dieffenbach and Ricketts would give their verbal pledges to the Panthers this summer.

And then it happened.

One by one, all three, instead, chose Paterno and the Nittany Lions.


"People were shocked. The Pitt (fans) were disappointed in me," Thomas Ricketts said. "You hear, 'Turncoat' and all of that kind of stuff.

"But I wanted to sort of pave my own path."

All seem to be recruiting treasures, as well. They need to fill out tall, athletic frames, but Dieffenbach is considered one of the best center prospects in the nation, and Ricketts looks the part of a starting left tackle at 6-foot-6 and was pursued by Boston College, Florida State and others.

And that leads us back to Paterno.

Here's how the 82-year-old head coach reacted to Dieffenbach's surprising pick of the Nittany Lions last week:

Paterno got the news, face-to-face from Dieffenbach and his parents and immediately leaped out of his office chair, clapped his hands and roared like a lion.


"Now, we're going to have to teach you to growl like a Nittany Lion," Paterno added.

Dieffenbach and his father enjoy recounting the story.

"That just shows you how he still loves what he's doing," Miles Dieffenbach said.

A day later it was Rickett's turn.

Adding a layer of intrigue was that Rickett's father also was recruited by Paterno and Penn State in the early 1980s. He picked Pitt over the Lions.

And he had to laugh the other day when remembering this thought he had about Paterno 25 years ago:

"(His age) was an issue when I was coming out (of high school). I said, 'How long do you think he's going to be there?'"

Of course, "How many years ago was that?"

So the family story lines have finally come around full-circle, in quite an unforeseen way.

When George Dieffenbach was playing tennis for the Panthers and Tom Ricketts was banging helmets for the Panthers, Paterno was the enemy coach in the middle of the state.

Now, with it time to send their sons away from home to play football, Paterno is still there, doing what he always has been doing.

And, almost unimaginable to some, he'll be teaching those kids who grew up, who lived all their days on Pitt football.

Already, Graham and Dieffenbach and Ricketts are becoming fast friends, texting and calling one another, meeting at football camps, a bond forming. Just some Pittsburgh linemen talking about how they will conquer college together.

At Penn State.; 771-2104