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Here are where some of our local athletes are headed to pursue their college athletic dreams. (Teddy Feinberg/GameTimePA.com)

The defensive back will join the Nittany Lions as a preferred walk-on

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Drew Hartlaub knew it would be a challenge.

He knew there were smaller schools where he'd have a better chance of getting playing time. He knew that being a walk-on would be tougher than being a scholarship athlete.

In the end, the opportunity to play for the reigning Big Ten champions at his dream school was too much to pass up.

That's why Hartlaub, a senior football player at South Western, decided last weekend to accept a preferred walk-on spot at Penn State. The former Mustangs star said he will compete for a spot at defensive back.

"Growing up in PA, it's the school you dream about going to as a kid," Hartlaub said. "I've been thinking about it for a while and with what I've been though the past year, I'll take a shot at it. If I never took this opportunity I know someday I'd regret it."

The decision ended what has been a stressful past 16 months for Hartlaub. After generating Division I interest following a breakout sophomore season, Hartlaub tore his ACL in the first game of his junior year. Back on the field this past fall, his statistics dropped from 1,303 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore to 702 total yards and seven touchdowns as a senior.

He wound up with only two Division I scholarship offers from Army and Albany, both of which had offered before his senior season. But he also remained in close contact with the Penn State coaching staff, which began recruiting him following his freshman season and offered the preferred walk-on spot this past August.

According to Hartlaub, the coaches at Penn State consistently took the time to encourage him following his injury. Head coach James Franklin spoke to him by phone the week after he tore his ACL, and associate head coach Brent Pry and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith both reached out around the same time.

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South Western running back Drew Hartlaub discusses scoring two touchdowns in the Mustangs 35-0 win over Gettysburg Friday. It was his first game since tearing his ACL in last season's opener. Matt Allibone

While he strongly considered going to Army, Hartlaub said the camaraderie he developed with Penn State's coaches convinced him to become a Nittany Lion.

"The phone call meant a lot," Hartlaub said. "It showed they care, and not necessarily everybody cares. I've been up there a ton of times and I have a really good relationship with the coaches."

Despite being known mostly as a running back and kick returner at South Western, the 6-foot, 180-pound Hartlaub will focus on playing cornerback in college. He added it's likely he'll redshirt his first year.

And while he didn't have his strongest season this past fall, Hartlaub is confident he's returned to top form. The defensive back said he currently runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds.

"My speed is what sets me apart," Hartlaub said. "The (Penn State) coaches have seen me at camps and competitions and they see players at every level. But I know I have to practice well, compete and be on time to meetings if I want to earn a scholarship."

Having rooted for the Nittany Lions his entire life, Hartlaub admitted it will be surreal to be teammates with players he's used to watching on television.

"That's crazy to think about because they're such good players, but I'm sure they'll accept me and I'll just be a regular teammate," he said. "I'm looking forward to meeting all the guys, there's so many good players on this team."

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