It may be the perfect time, the final time, for Joe Paterno to work some crucial mid-winter magic.

To hit the road recruiting and land the huge prize at the end the way he used to.

His team needs him.

And, strangely enough, it seems like he could now visit a star high school recruit in a faraway state at the last minute and convince him to join the Lions -- something he hasn't accomplished in forever.

Weird, huh?

The man is 83 but is now truly healthy for the first time after a bowl game in four years. He's coming off back-to-back 11-victory seasons. He's somehow kept his best assistants hanging around while other schools scramble to reload.

Now, Penn State needs his best shot as a statesman, entertainer, family schmoozer and legend to land his best schoolboy star since those dark days in 2004.

Back then, many figured Joe was simply old, worn, done. Four losing seasons in five years. Fans wanted change.


Administrators wanted him to leave nicely.

He seemed vulnerable, at best. He was nearing 80 and wasn't hitting the recruiting trail anymore.

Meanwhile, other head coaches were showing up on doorsteps, the faces of programs to convince moms and dads why their All-Americans should come to their schools.

Back then, Joe saw the opportunity and struck.

He went to Maryland after a kid named Derrick Williams (regarded as the best player in America by some), showed up at the kid's high school the first day he could.

Williams committed late and was the name of a tremendous class. He was the offensive weapon desperately needed.

That put Penn State's resurgence in motion.

And now it's time again.

The Lions aren't losing like they were back then. They don't need a big-time running back to survive next season or probably the one after that.

But they do need Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina.

Because Penn State can still do better, should do better. In the victory column and in the recruiting game.

Why settle?

The Lions should be reeling in a top 10 star running back every other year, and yet they haven't done so in the past seven.

And while Penn State's coaches have recruited well of late, they also still haven't been able to wrap up the best prospects at the end.

Lattimore is the latest opportunity.

This time, Joe said he's going to visit the family before signing day on Feb 3.

It's the perfect opportunity, really. The legendary coach is healthy. And the guy he's going after may be the nation's best at a position Penn State covets, one who has legitimate Penn State interest.

It's all there.

It's a chance to make the biggest splash, even if he helps much more in 2011 than in 2010.

Because you can never have too many star running backs, never have too many kids with this kind of talent.

Joe knows this. That's why he's doing something he almost never does anymore to make this happen, to seal a deal the way he used to.

He knows his program is on the verge of loading up talent and making a run like he hasn't seen in 25 years.

The time is right.

The time couldn't be better.