The sixth practice of the spring Thursday was a landmark of sorts for the Pitt football team.
It was during the sixth practice of the spring in 2013 that running back Rushel Shell mumbled something about being “tired” and sat down on the trainer’s table, almost literally never to be heard from at Pitt again. The next thing anyone knew, Shell had decided to quit the team.
To his credit, Shell has resurrected his career at West Virginia, and he could be one of the Big 12’s top running backs this season.
Pitt has come a long way since then. James Conner now carries the mantel of Pitt feature back with pride and accountability, and is one of the team leaders.
Imagine that. Pitt was able to replace Shell, a highly prized recruit when he came out of high school, with the ACC Player of the Year. You just never know.
— Also Thursday, Pitt received a commitment from junior quarterback Thomas MacVittie of Archbishop Moeller (Ohio) High School in Cincinnati. That makes three from the Class of 2016 for coach Pat Narduzzi.
In 2011, former Pitt coach Todd Graham didn’t get his first verbal until June — Sto-Rox cornerback Marzett Geter, who never enrolled at Pitt. Paul Chryst had one March verbal in his two exclusive recruiting classes — Seton-La Salle tight end Scott Orndoff in 2012.
It’s a long way to February, 2016, but Narduzzi is setting a nice pace.
— There was plenty of high school flavor on the sideline Thursday, especially with the presence of four-star cornerback Damar Hamlin of Central Catholic. Hamlin, who has been a regular at practice over the past two weeks, walked onto the field with two Pitt staffers and had a brief conversation with Narduzzi. At one point, Narduzzi put his arm around Hamlin before turning his attention back to his current players.
Some Pitt people are all but salivating at the possibility of pairing cornerbacks Jordan Whitehead and Hamlin in the same secondary, starting in 2016 or 2017. But there’s a long way to go in Hamlin’s recruitment, especially with Urban Meyer lurking.
One interesting note about Hamlin: He lives in McKees Rocks and grew up in the same neighborhood as Pitt wide receiver Dontez Ford.
— Among the visiting WPIAL coaches were Jim Render of Upper St. Clair, Rich Bowen of Hempfield and North Allegheny assistant Mike Buchert.
— Bowen was accompanied by his athletic director Greg Meisner, a former Pitt and NFL defensive lineman.
When I mentioned to Meisner that it would have been nice if Pitt had an indoor practice facility when he played in the late 1970s, Meisner said, “If we did, Jackie Sherrill would have never taken us inside.”
Former Pitt coach Walt Harris addressed the team before practice, expressing admiration for their 5:30 a.m. workout sessions this winter. Harris used to give his players a break in the winter — workouts didn’t start until 6 a.m.
— Former Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise, who has attended several Pitt practices over the years, also was in attendance.
— Narduzzi said redshirt freshman tight end Brian O’Neill has a minor hand injury, but is expected to return to practice sometime this spring. “We’ll be smart with him. It’s not a time to get anybody hurt worse.”
— Junior free safety Reggie Mitchell said junior Jevonte Pitts, a little-used backup in his first three years at Pitt, is working with the first team at strong safety. “He is one of the hardest hitters on the defense,” Mitchell said.
— Pitt will scrimmage Saturday.