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March 24, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Injuries, position shift trim Pitt’s depth chart at wide receiver

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Pitt’s wide receiver depth chart is so devoid of experienced pass catchers that the best news is this: It’s only March.
With Elijah Zeise now practicing at outside linebacker, the remaining wide receivers on the Pitt roster who caught passes last season total three.
Remaining wide receivers on the Pitt roster who caught passes last season and are currently going through a full practice: 1.
Projected starters Dontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth are slowed by injuries.
That left Quadree Henderson (two catches, 1 yard) as the most accomplished wide receiver to line up Thursday for scrimmage plays in practice.
At the bottom of the depth chart, Gentry Ivery, a lightly regarded 2015 prospect from Texas, left the program this week.
Losing Zeise and Ivery thins the crowd in wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman’s room, but is it necessarily a good thing for that side of the ball?
Zeise has the right mix of athleticism and a work ethic, and he was working his way up the depth chart. I think Zeise would have contributed on offense this season.
If he emerges on defense — and he made a few tackles in practice Thursday, including a TFL — that helps on one side of the ball.
The hard truth: Zeise is needed at linebacker, at least until Anthony McKee and Bam Bradley get healthy. If he remains there through the end of the spring, it wouldn’t make much sense to return him to wide receiver this summer.
Meanwhile, quarterback Nate Peterman is running out of reliable targets. The injuries to Ford and Challingsworth aren’t helping because they are losing valuable practice time with their quarterback. There’s a reason schools conduct spring drills. It helps build on-field relationships, especially in the passing game.
The good news is Ford and Challingsworth are expected back before summer camp. They work out on a limited basis now and Challingsworth (shoulder surgery) went through calisthenics with his teammates Thursday morning.
The wide receiver to watch, in my opinion, is Tre Tipton. One of the more confident athletes to come through the Pitt program in recent years, he already runs sharp routes and impressed last season as a freshman to the point that he appeared in four games before hurting his knee. Coaches felt comfortable moving Zeise to linebacker because they have high hopes for Tipton.

UCLA assistants Tom Bradley (there’s a name from the past) and Rip Scherer, a Pittsburgh native and former graduate assistant at Penn State, visited practice Thursday.
Bradley is entering his second season as UCLA’s defensive coordinator and Scherer is the tight ends coach.
Several people asked me why coaches from another Power 5 school would be welcome at practice. Actually, it happens all the time among teams that don’t play each other.

Speaking of UCLA, former Bruins tight end Chris Clark has made a good impression since transferring to Pitt. It looks like he will help, but probably not until 2017.
He experienced a bout of mononucleosis last year at UCLA, slowing his development even though he played in the opener. He is petitioning the NCAA to be eligible this season, but all the paperwork hasn’t been submitted. Sadly for Clark, his petition is expected to fail because he did take 11 snaps last season.
But there will be a holes at tight end next season when seniors Scott Orndoff and Jaymar Parrish are gone. Clark would be in line to start.
Parrish, by the way, suffered an injury recently and will miss the rest of spring, coach Pat Narduzzi said. Narduzzi refused to reveal the nature or extent of Parrish’s injury.
“That’s a personal thing, I think,” Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi is not unlike most coaches (probably closer to all coaches) when it comes to releasing injury information. They hate doing it.
One thing I learned from the NFL — and Todd Graham backed this up to me one day five years ago — is that opposing teams will target a player’s body part if they think it’s weak or injured.
If player X has a shoulder injury, for example, and he plays, anyway, and is involved in blitz protection, do you think the defense might try to test that shoulder with repeated blitzes? Of course, it will. Then, all of a sudden, you might have another injured player — your quarterback.
But there are flaws in that theory:
— Keeping information secret these days, even from the other team, is difficult. Players talk amongst themselves, their friends and family members, and are constantly on social media. So, in many cases, it gets out, anyway, even without telling reporters. (So, Pat, you might as well tell us and eliminate the middle man.)
— Also, Pitt doesn’t play a game until September, so maybe spring injuries should fit in a different category.
Coaches don’t like to dish out too much information about anything. The bar is usually low in that regard, especially when it involves body parts, so Narduzzi going light with the details is no surprise.

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March 22, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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The search for a backup quarterback

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Pitt has plenty of arms throwing footballs at spring practice, but finding the appropriate one to back up starting quarterback Nate Peterman is an ongoing quest.
Coach Pat Narduzzi doesn’t seem concerned about the battle among Adam Bertke, Ben DiNucci, Manny Stoker and Ryan Adzima.
“There are a lot of people around the country trying to find out who that No. 1 (quarterback) is,” Narduzzi said. “At least, we’re talking about who that No. 2 guy is.”
This summer, freshman Thomas MacVittie and Central Florida transfer Bo Schneider will join the fray. Schneider must sit out the season, however.
Narduzzi hasn’t said, but I assume he doesn’t want to burn a season of eligibility for MacVittie and make him the backup in the event of a short-term injury to Peterman.

The Ivy League and the Big 12 have moved to limit hitting in practice, but Narduzzi said there will be no change at Pitt.
“We are always trying to be smart,” he said. “I don’t know what the trend is, but we’re not changing. We are trying to play tough football. Remember, we’re in Pittsburgh, right?”
The NCAA allows 12 padded practices in the spring, and current plans are to take advantage of all of them.

Jordan Whitehead will be the starting strong safety and an occasional weapon on offense. But don’t expect him to necessarily rest on special teams.
Narduzzi hasn’t settled on his kick and punt returners, but Whitehead is significantly in the conversation.
“Some people have the philosophy of resting their starters on special teams,” Narduzzi said. “That’s a major phase, a third of the game. We’re going to play our best guys like we did with Tyler Boyd back there as a punt returner a year ago.”
Don’t forget: Pitt may not have recorded its only bowl victory in the past five years if Boyd wasn’t available to return punts in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2013.

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March 15, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Narduzzi unsure about road trips in the spring

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When Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi met reporters Tuesday after the first day of spring drills, I couldn’t resist asking him the question that has circulated throughout college football this year:
What does he think of college football teams going on the road for spring practice as Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh did with his team?
Narduzzi didn’t totally reject the idea for Pitt in the future. But it doesn’t sound like he’s begging athletic director Scott Barnes for permission.
“Let’s see if we can go to Hawaii,” he said, obviously kidding.
Then, he added:
“It’s a great idea if it works and you’re allowed to do it. If we’re allowed to do it, we may look at it.”
On the other hand:
“One of the big things throughout the country is time demands put on student-athletes,” he said. “It puts more demand in the off-season. Some people say, `Baseball does it.’ But it’s their season.”
Then, without mentioning Michigan by name, he added:
“They got away with it. If it’s allowed, I think a lot of people will have spring break together. Everybody is going to bend the rules as much as they can.”

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March 12, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Siragusa named broadcaster of the year

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I’m pretty sure I missed a good time Friday night in Atlantic City, N.J., where former Pitt and NFL star and FOX Sports on-field analyst Tony Siragusa was named winner of the 13th annual Tropicana Broadcast Award. The presentation was made at the Maxwell Football Club’s 79th annual National Awards Gala in the Tropicana Casino & Resort.
It’s difficult to choose the most interesting achievement among many in Siragusa’s 48 years.
After all, he was a state wrestling champion in Kenilworth, N.J., winning 97 of 98 matches, before he went to college and played on the last Pitt team of the 20th century to win as many as eight games (1989). One of his teammates was current Pitt defensive line coach Tom Sims.
How about those 12 years in the NFL as a defensive lineman with the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens? He played on the Colts team that lost to the Steelers in the 1995 AFC Championship game.
Siragusa finally made it to a Super Bowl (XXXV in 2001), helping the Ravens beat the New York Giants, 34-7. But not before he was fined $10,000 for an illegal hit on Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon in that season’s AFC title game. Siragusa later told Howard Stern that it’s wrong to try to hurt opposing players.
These days, Siragusa stars on the DIY Network series “Man Caves,” where he helps create rooms built specifically for guys. But that’s nothing compared to the theatrics of Siragusa playing Tony Soprano’s driver and bodyguard Frankie Cortese in the hit HBO series “The Sopranos.”
He also has owned five restaurants in New Jersey, and he wrote a book in 2012 — “GOOSE: The Outrageous Life and Times of a Football Guy.”
But maybe his most important accomplishment is this: The Tony Siragusa Foundation has raised more than $1 million for underprivileged children.
“During my playing days, it never crossed my mind that I would be receiving an award for excellence in broadcasting,” he said. “To know that my hard work as a sideline analyst for FOX has been recognized by the Maxwell Football Club is truly an honor. And here I thought all these years it was my devilishly handsome face that allowed me to do what I do as an analyst on Sundays.”

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March 9, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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What if coaches could turn back the clock to their playing careers?

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Imagine this scene, right out of the Bizarro World of college football.
Chased by linebacker Pat Narduzzi, quarterback Paul Chryst (having won the job in a competition with James Franklin) drops back to pass. He scans the throwing lanes for wide receiver Dana Holgorsen. Satisfied that Holgorsen is open, Chryst unleashes the football.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, here comes safety Todd Graham to knock Chryst’s pass to the ground.
I don’t think ESPN.com college football writer Adam Rittenberg had the preceding scene in mind when he ranked 129 college coaches in terms of their abilities as players. But it’s fun to fantasize.
Wisconsin’s Chryst, the former Pitt coach, was ranked 60th by Rittenberg on the strength of the three letters he earned as a backup quarterback, tight end, linebacker and safety for the Badgers from 1986-1988.
Next was Graham (No. 74), another former Pitt coach. Graham, the coach at Arizona State, was a hard-hitting NAIA All-American who actually went to camp with the Arizona Cardinals.
Narduzzi (No. 76) started as a freshman at Youngstown State, leading the Ohio Valley Conference in tackles. He transferred to Rhode Island when his coach and father Bill Narduzzi was fired, and started from 1987-1989.
On Narduzzi’s heels at No. 77 is Penn State’s Franklin, a Division II star. He was a two-year starter who set 23 team records at East Stroudsburg and was nominated for Division II player of the year as a senior.
Finally, Holgorsen gets a little love from Rittenberg at 101. Holgorsen played at NAIA Iowa Wesleyan, catching 145 passes for 1,711 yards.
Rittenberg’s list includes eight other coaches with local ties:
— Former Steelers wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery (No. 21), the coach at East Carolina, was a wide receiver at Duke and a two-time team MVP.
— Former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez (No. 36), now at Arizona, was a Mountaineers walk-on who ended up earning a scholarship and three letters.
— Marshall coach Doc Holliday (No. 40), a former West Virginia linebacker.
Sean Kugler was the Steelers’ offensive line coach before he got the head job at UTEP. He played at UTEP (No. 42) and signed a free agent contract with the Steelers in 1989.
— Former Steelers quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple (No. 81) was the starting quarterback at Brown in 1977 and 1978. He now coaches Massachusetts.
— Former Pitt special teams coach Charlie Partridge of Florida Atlantic (No. 85), an All-American defensive lineman at Drake.
— Former Pitt wide receivers coach Mike Norvell of Memphis (No. 86). He caught more passes (213) at Division II Central Arkansas than anyone else.
— Moon native Bob Davie of New Mexico (No. 102), a former Youngstown State tight end.
The leader of the pack, of course, is Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, an All-American quarterback for the Wolverines, first-round draft choice and a 15-season pro.

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March 8, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Happy 102nd birthday to former Pitt All-American Bill Glassford

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Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi, who pays attention to social media more than any coach I’ve encountered, seldom misses an opportunity to use Twitter to wish a happy birthday to past and present players and staff members.
I wonder if he knows about Bill Glassford, who turned 102 today (Tuesday, March 8).
Glassford played on the offensive and defensive lines for the legendary Jock Sutherland. He was captain and an All-American on Pitt’s 1937 Rose Bowl team that defeated Washington, 21-0. It was Sutherland’s fourth Rose Bowl – he lost the first three – and he was so elated about winning one that he made sure every player who traveled got in the game.
Pitt football historian Alex Kramer, an administrative assistant to five coaches, speaks regularly with Glassford.
“He’s doing fine,” Kramer said. “He’s in good health for being 102.”
Kramer said Glassford, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., still takes an occasional trip to the casino and often finds himself in poker games.
Glassford’s vision isn’t great, but he listens to books on tape.
He follows football, especially Nebraska and Pitt games. He was Nebraska’s head coach from 1949-1955. He also coached at New Hampshire, Carnegie Tech, Yale and Manhattan where his salary was 10 monthly payments of $100.
Kramer said Glassford uses a hearing aid and walker, “but I have never heard him moan or complain.”
When I spoke to Glassford two years ago when he turned 100, he said he was offered the Pitt coaching job twice by athletic director Tom Hamilton. He wanted to return to Pitt – his wife Alma was from Castle Shannon — but he had a contract with Nebraska. In those days, coaches honored contracts. What a concept!
Kramer is sure Glassford is Pitt’s oldest living football letterman.
“I can’t imagine anyone being older,” he said. “If there was, I would know about him. I have spent a good part of my life reviewing the Sutherland era players.”
Thank you, Alex, for keeping in touch.
Happy birthday, Mr. Glassford. We all should be so fortunate.

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February 25, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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The latest from Pitt AD Scott Barnes via TribLive Radio

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Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes spent some time Wednesday with TribLive Radio inquisitors Ken Laird, Tim Benz and Josh Taylor, and as you might expect the talk turned to ticket sales and attendance at Heinz Field and the Pete.
Earlier this month, Barnes unveiled to reporters an ambitious plan to sell a record number of full season-ticket packages for the seven football games at Heinz Field this year.
He’s not running from that “aspirational goal,” reiterating that Pitt needs to reach a 93 percent renewal rate and sell nearly 10,000 new season tickets.
“We are well above pace in the new-ticket piece,” he said, “and about on pace with renewals.”
Attendance at Heinz Field was up more than 16 percent last year to an average of 48,150, a product of coach Pat Narduzzi’s salesmanship, his team’s ability to overachieve, his ability to hide the warts and having Notre Dame on the schedule.
When Barnes was told about a recent TLR poll that revealed that people still miss Pitt Stadium, he acknowledged that “the feelings and emotions of the past come into play.”
But he said students have been buying tickets to Heinz Field at a record pace for the 2016 seven-game schedule and, he added with a smile that was detectable through the phone, “they are staying into the fourth quarter (beyond `Sweet Caroline’).”
Barnes loves the affiliation with the Steelers at Heinz Field, and he has no plans to lose that for an on-campus facility that is not logistically sound or possible (unless you see nothing wrong with knocking down a neighborhood or a hospital).
Plus, Heinz Field for the first time will have a distinctly Pitt (script, no doubt) look on game days this season.
A more immediate concern is attendance at 12,508-seat Petersen Events Center, which reached only 8,825 and 10,425 at the past two ACC games (Wake Forest and Louisville).
“I thought it wasn’t what it needed to be, but I certainly don’t view it as drastically as some,” Barnes said, speaking before the Louisville game. “Absolute improvement is needed.”
Barnes pointed out that college basketball attendance is a national problem, and he should know — he is past chairman of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament selection committee.
“We have to meet people where they are,” he said, pointing out that social media connectability at the Pete is a problem that is being addressed.
In response to a question about returning West Virginia to the schedule — the teams haven’t met since 2012 — he added basketball’s non-conference schedule may need tweeked, not only to improve attendance but to help Pitt’s resume for the postseason.
“We have an open door,” he said of discussions on future scheduling. “Jamie (Dixon) and I are on the same page in terms of trying to make that happen. If it doesn’t happen soon, it will happen later. It’s not a product of not trying.
“A lot of folks have the idea that the first call we make, they are coming. It’s very difficult. For every 10 calls we make, we may get one on the hook.”

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February 11, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Boyd will join 331 other prospects at NFL Combine; plus thinking spring

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I joined Ken Laird, Tim Benz and Josh Taylor on Friday morning to discuss Pitt (finally!) moving its spring game to Heinz Field. The game is April 16. Listen here.

Tyler Boyd will take his first significant plunge into the NFL Draft pool when he joins 331 other prospects at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, scheduled for Feb. 23-29.
Boyd, who left Pitt after setting school reception and yardage records in only three seasons, was invited, along with 12 other players with local ties. Let’s look at what NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein, a talk show host in Houston, wrote about Boyd, who was listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds last season:
Strengths: Ultra-competitive. Known for powerful hands that clamp instantly onto ball and finish heavily contested catches. Has over-the-middle toughness. Plays with outstanding body control and has ability to gyrate and contort in mid-air in order to make acrobatic catches look easy. Brimming with confidence. Targeted 124 times or more in each of his three seasons. Able to create window through route polish. Sinks into breaks and comes out low with good turn radius when needed. Sits in space and slows routes when necessary to prevent safety from crowding him in deep middle. Has handled some kick return and punt return duties during his time at Pitt.
Weaknesses: Relatively low touchdown production (21) to target rate. Marginal long speed. Isn’t a threat to run by corners and has to win with routes and hands. Just a possession receiver much of the year. Limited YAC (yards after catch) potential due to lack of shake in open field and power to break tackles. Became a fumble factory on punt returns this year and ball security must be addressed. Lacks juice to be a full-time kick returner. Separation windows close quickly due to average getaway quickness out of breaks. Needs to use body better to protect the catch rather than just relying on strong mitts.
Sources tell us: “I think he can overcome some of his speed deficiencies with good routes and he has hand strength like (Jarvis) Landry in Miami. I would take him in the second or third (round).” — AFC East scout.
NFL comparison: Keenan Allen of the San Diego Chargers.
Bottom line: Pitt asked Boyd to be a running back and possession receiver this season, but that doesn’t define what he can be in the pros. Boyd makes up for a lack of speed with vice grips for hands and intelligence in his routes. Boyd isn’t a standalone WR1, but he can be a very productive starter in a play-action attack that allows him to play to his strengths.

I can’t disagree with anything Zierlein wrote, but I might add that Boyd quickly picked up the nuances of the wide receiver position very quickly (he was not solely that at Clairton), and he worked with three different quarterbacks at Pitt (Tom Savage, Chad Voytik and Nathan Peterman).
What I found interesting about that latter factoid is that Boyd recorded his longest catch with Savage (69), most yardage and touchdowns with Voytik (1,261 and eight) and most receptions with Peterman (91).
Also, Boyd led the team in receptions in all three seasons, and the No. 2 pass catchers (Devin Street, J.P. Holtz and Dontez Ford) averaged 52 receptions behind him.
After Street left for the NFL in the 2014 draft, Pitt never found a consistently effective complement for Boyd. In the NFL, Boyd will have another talented wide receiver lining up with him; it will be interesting to see what he does when he’s no longer the sole target of the secondary.
The second or third round appears to be what most analysts are predicting for Boyd on draft weekend (April 28-30).
Boyd has been working out in California almost since the end of Pitt’s season. He wants it, and knows what it takes. His willingness to work hard and his adherence to the concept of team (in my eyes his two most admirable qualities at Pitt) will help him construct a good NFL career.

A couple other observations about the combine list:
Eastern Kentucky outside linebacker Noah Spence, a graduate of Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, is rated the No. 2 edge pass rusher available in the draft by respected analyst Mike Mayock.
While in high school, Spence seriously considered signing with Pitt and might have done so if Dave Wannstedt hadn’t been fired. But his college career was full of potholes.
He went to Ohio State and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013, but he failed two drug tests and was treated for addiction, according to Zierlein. Spence, 6-2, 254, also was arrested last year and charged with alcohol intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct, but the incident was expunged from his record after he performed community service.
On the field, he knows how to rush the passer. He had 22 1/2 tackles for a loss and 13 1/2 sacks while earning FCS All-American honors last year.

NFL.com also listed a few notable players who weren’t invited to the combine:
— Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who set a record with 88 rushing touchdowns, but will switch to running back and/or kick returner in the NFL.
— Wisconsin’s Mike Caputo, a West Allegheny graduate, who is a two-time, second-team All-Big Ten safety.

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February 2, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Wednesday in the Pitt war room (at least close enough to hear voices)

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So far, Tuesday has been slow on the Pitt recruiting front, other than the quote from Gateway (Fla.) High School coach Marlin Roberts.
When I asked Roberts about Gateway cornerback Henry Miller, who is committed to Pitt but considering Miami, Roberts said he expected him to sign with Pitt:
“If not, it’s going to be an awkward ceremony. I’ve already ordered blue and gold balloons and a blue and gold cake,” he said.
Wednesday should be a climatic day, with Pitt threatening to poke into the top 25 in Rivals.com’s recruiting rankings for the first time in 10 years. I will join several other media members on the fringe of Pitt’s fax machine (steps from the war room), starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Thanks for the invitation, coach Narduzzi.
A big part of my Tuesday was spent on TribLive Radio with Tim Benz, Ken Laird and Josh Taylor. Lots of words from all of us. Most of it actually relevant and interesting.

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February 2, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Take at look at Pitt coaches’ unfettered glee after nabbing Hamlin

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Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi posted this six-second video on Twitter on Monday night, a reaction by his entire staff to Central Catholic defensive back Damar Hamlin announcing on KDKA-TV that he will sign with Pitt.
Hamlin said he didn’t phone Narduzzi until after his announcement, so this is real, live, raw emotion. Upon viewing it, my first thought was: How would they react if they someday win the ACC? Also, why only six seconds. I wanted to see more.
Anyway, the coaches’ pride and joy are appropriate and well-deserved. These guys traveled all over the country, jumping from airplane to rental car to airplane all in the same day, talking to parents and coaches while hunting down prospects they believe will make Pitt a better team.
And they won’t be done after Wednesday. They plan to play host to 33 junior recruits this weekend.
With the approach of Wednesday’s signing day, Pitt’s 2016 class is shaping up as one of its best in many years (at least in the post-Wannstedt years). There are five four-star prospects, according to Rivals.com, and four of them play defense — a major area of need at Pitt.
Narduzzi looks like he will walk away with an impressive collection of Pennsylvania players — seven of the top 21 in the state, according to Rivals, led by No. 4 Hamlin and No. 7 Kaezon Pugh of Aliquippa. All seven played for WPIAL or City League schools.
The class is top-heavy with defensive players (14 of 22, with many people believing Lakeland, Fla., defensive tackle Keyshon Camp will pick Pitt on Wednesday and make it 15). Narduzzi saw a void and addressed it.
In my opinion, the class will rise and fall on the development of quarterback Thomas MacVittie, who may have to be the starter as soon as 2017. His signature on a letter of intent is critical, especially after Pitt lost quarterback prospects Tre’Von Chapman, Wade Freebeck and Alex Hornibrook off their 2013-15 commitment lists. (Chapman, actually, enrolled before he was dismissed in the wake of a domestic incident in 2013.)
There are players from eight states on Pitt’s ’16 list, with five below the Mason-Dixon Line (North Carolina, Florida and Virginia.) Of course, linebacker Chase Pine of Williamsburg, Va., defensive back Henry Miller of Kissimmee, Fla., and Camp are flirting with other schools. So stay tuned.
Neither Pitt nor Penn State are dominating the state, however. Yes, Penn State lost No. 14 Aaron Mathews to Pitt on Monday, but coach James Franklin still has commitments from three of the top six, including No. 1 Miles Sanders of Woodland Hills.
And, by the way, let me jump up on my soapbox for a minute:
Those people questioning Sanders’ mother assumed preference of Penn State need to mind their own business.
I can’t say I know for sure that she wants her son to go to Penn State (recruiting news is so much presumption, guesses and lies), but I know this:
In almost all cases, mother knows best.

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