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August 13, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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The morning after the first padded practice (just shells) of the summer, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi talked Thursday about the fine line between going hard in drills and staying safe from injury.
It’s a key point because Pitt’s depth is improving, but still isn’t up the standards Narduzzi helped build at Michigan State. Imagine what serious injuries to Pitt’s two stars – James Conner and Tyler Boyd – would mean to the players’ stated goal of winning an ACC championship.
“It’s hard as a defender to run through and knock the (stuffing) out of somebody if you have to stay up off the ground and you don’t want to knock guys into (a player’s) knees,” he said. “You have to be careful. You have to get good teaching done without beating the heck out of your players. We are trying to get them to play fast, and also be safe.
“There is a fine line there.”
Narduzzi said it’s an advantage for his players to practice next to the Steelers “because, I think, our kids learn how to practice like pros.”
“Most people don’t understand how the pros practice. You have a 54-man roster, you can’t get guys hurt, million-dollar players.
“Our guys aren’t million-dollar players yet. We have a lot of them who will be.”

One injury/illness note: Senior defensive tackle Darryl Render remains on the field in full gear, despite a minor stomach ailment. But he defers many first-team reps to K.K. Mosley-Smith and Tyrique Jarrett.
Narduzzi probably will rotate those three players at the two defensive tackle positions all season.
A by-the-way note: Scouts from the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets attended practice Thursday morning.

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August 7, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Breaking down the Pitt roster, position-by-position

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After months of job interviews, news conferences, speeches, recruiting and just generally selling the program, Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi is ready to take the label he likes best — coach — onto the practice field for summer camp.
It’s his first time in charge, but not his first time. Narduzzi has been a big part of someone’s camp since the early 1980s at Youngstown Ursuline High School. Since then, he played or coached at seven schools before he was hired at Pitt on Dec. 26.
My first impression of Narduzzi has played out accurately. He’s a guy who knows the right way to run a program, and he’s not afraid to tell the people who matter. For the first time in many years at Pitt, the upper administration has been receptive to its head coach
That’s a good start, but you have to remember the football is pointed on both ends, and no one knows how it will bounce when it hits the ground. The offense is good, but the defense needs considerable seasoning.
Narduzzi’s job is to keep the ball off the ground when his offense has it, and to get it on the ground when the other guy owns it.
That’s not easy, but if it was, I doubt he would have accepted the job.
Here is a quick glance at how each position will look when practice begins at 9:55 a.m. Monday:
QUARTERBACK
What football fan doesn’t love a good quarterback controversy? But only those who missed the second half of last season should expect one at Pitt.
After the loss to Virginia at midseason, Chad Voytik completed 63.8 percent of his passes, with only two interceptions in 144 attempts (seven games). He threw a touchdown pass in 11 of 13 games overall and ran for three more scores.
He had a good summer, working with his receivers on an almost daily basis, and learning the right way to lead — in and out of the huddle — at Peyton Manning’s camp in Louisiana.
Tennessee graduate transfer Nate Peterman is an experienced backup – he started two games for the Volunteers last season – and that’s something Pitt hasn’t had on its roster in a long time.
Narduzzi knows the importance of depth at every position – whether he’ll eventually need it or not.
RUNNING BACK
James Conner gets in line with a long list of 1,000-yard rushers at Pitt. The school has had one in all but two seasons since 2007.
Asking him to duplicate his 1,765-yard effort of last season is asking too much. Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will show more faith in Voytik than Paul Chryst did, so the passing game will be more important this season.
But Conner has two traits – strength and desire – that will set him apart from most of the nation’s running backs. There’s also a nice stable of talented reserves – Chris James, Rachid Ibrahim, Qadree Ollison and freshman Darrin Hall – to help ease some of the pressure on Pitt’s marquee back.
The screen pass is back in the Pitt offense, too, and Chaney will work hard to get Conner’s 240 pounds in open space as often as possible.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
Losing Tyler Boyd, who will serve a one-game suspension for a DUI, disrupts the structure and discipline Narduzzi demands from his program. But Boyd will grow from it, I believe, and he will be ready mentally and physically for the NFL next year. He’s a good person who made a mistake that does not define him.
Boyd’s absence will allow one of the young wide receivers to seize an opportunity. My money’s on Dontez Ford, a Syracuse transfer and Sto-Rox graduate. Also, keep an eye on redshirt freshman Elijah Zeise – I know the coaches are.
Hard to believe tight end J.P. Holtz is a senior, but he never redshirted after leaving Shaler, and he has been among the most dependable players on the Pitt team.
Here’s a stat for you: One of every eight receptions by Holtz (7 of 57) has ended in a touchdown. Junior Scott Orndoff is similarly productive, but on a smaller scale: One in every three catches (3 of 10) is a score.
You know what that means: Pitt hasn’t thrown enough to the tight end.
OFFENSIVE LINE
Finally, Pitt coaches don’t have to shut their eyes and hope when inserting a backup lineman into the starting lineup.
Right tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith’s season-ending knee injury is an unfortunate break for the promising sophomore tackle, but line coach John Peterson has an option at guard if redshirt freshman right guard Alex Bookser moves outside.
Peterson can shift center Alex Officer to guard and bring back senior center Artie Rowell, who missed most of last season with a knee injury and is recovered. Plus, there’s junior center Gabe Roberts in reserve.
Left guard Dorian Johnson also has experience at tackle.
Junior left tackle Adam Bisnowaty has started 18 games the past two seasons, and will join Rowell as the respected, older gentlemen of the line.
Chryst and former line coach Jim Hueber insisted on building depth on the line. That was their parting gift to Pitt.
DEFENSIVE LINE
It’s a good sign when a younger player challenges a senior for playing time. Junior tackle Tyrique Jarrett is pushing senior K.K. Mosley-Smith, and Jarrett could end up being the starter. At the other tackle, senior Darryl Render is up to 300 pounds and is entering his fourth season as a regular contributor. Those three have the potential to build a formidable wall in the middle of the defense, no matter which pair is in the game together.
End is a question mark because there aren’t enough bodies, but senior Ejuan Price is back from a chest muscle injury. That’s a big help.
Keeping him healthy is important, however, at least in the opener when Rori Blair will be unavailable due to his DUI arrest. Blair led the team in sacks as a freshmen (5 ½) last season.
LINEBACKER
Brothers Nicholas Grigsby and Bam Bradley look like the bookend linebackers who will surround experienced junior middle linebacker Matt Galambos.
Grigsby has the speed to come off the edge and beat tackles who will be nearly 100 pounds heavier, but more than a second slower in many cases. Bradley likes contact.
Together, they combined for five sacks last season (not enough), but they each started only one game. Increased playing time could make them one of the most feared pass-rushing linebacker combinations in the ACC. Is that too much praise? Not if you consider their superior athleticism.
Galambos has started 12 games in the past two seasons, and will make many of the calls after earning defensive coordinator Josh Conklin’s trust in the off-season. Junior Mike Caprara is only 6-foot, 230 pounds, but he has a sharp mind, is always around the football and can play inside or outside.
SECONDARY
More than one coach have commented on the impressive off-season of senior cornerback Lafayette Pitts, down 17 pounds to 195. Pitts has started 38 games, with only three interceptions, but he could match that in his final season.
Sophomore cornerback Avonte Maddox is only 5-9, 170, but he plays with a defiant streak, and he isn’t afraid to mix it up with the bigger guys trying to embarrass him.
There is a bit of depth at safety, with Pitts’ cousin Jevonte challenging Pat Amara for playing time. Amara, a sophomore, missed most of the spring with a medical condition. Don’t forget about freshman Jordan Whitehead, who will play a significant role in the secondary, either at corner, safety or nickel back.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Narduzzi should have no worries about his kicking game, with the return of junior kicker Chris Blewitt and sophomore punter Ryan Winslow. Blewitt missed only five of 21 field-goal attempts last season, and he is 12 of 16 for his career from 40 yards or longer.
Winslow averaged 40.1 yards last season.

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August 4, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Narduzzi got it right in punishing Boyd, Blair

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The significance of the punishment handed down by Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi on wide receiver Tyler Boyd and defensive end Rori Blair goes beyond the playing field.
Both players will be suspended one game — the opener Sept. 5 against Youngstown State — after their DUI citations earlier this year.
Fans and other analysts grading Narduzzi’s first serious test of discipline will fall into three groups:
* Those who believe the punishment was too light.
* Those who deem it appropriate.
* Those who wonder if it would have been lighter if Pitt was playing, for example, Florida State in the opener.
I can’t agree that the punishment is too light.
Both players are first-time offenders, and Boyd already has been put into a rehabilitative program by Allegheny County Judge Robert C. Gallo that potentially could expunge his record. Blair, who also is charged with driving 117 mph near the Fort Pitt Bridge, faces a hearing Aug. 25 in Pittsburgh Municipal Court.
A one-game suspension is just right under the circumstances. It sends the message to other Pitt players that a similar indiscretion will be met with the same punishment. No one wants the shame of sitting out a game. I believe Narduzzi’s action will serve as a deterrent.
That said, a two-game suspension would have been equally appropriate. Drunk driving is dangerous. Boyd and Blair found that out in the most painless manner possible. Lucky for them.
The cynics will insist it’s easy to suspend Boyd and Blair for a game Pitt could win without the help of its 2014 reception and sack leaders. Not so easy, I contend.
Former Pitt coach Paul Chryst suspended six players before his first game in 2012, a loss to Youngstown State. Presumably, Pitt’s depth has evolved to the point that it can withstand suspending two players for a game against an FCS school, but remember:
* Pitt is still looking for a complementary wide receiver to Boyd.
* Defensive end is not a deep position.
Narduzzi must win his opener to validate all the enthusiasm and energy he generated since he was hired Dec. 26. Suspending two important players does not help that cause.
You can presume Boyd and Blair would have played against a better opponent, but such a presumption would be unfair to Narduzzi and, I believe, wrong. He acted within the parameters he was facing, and he acted appropriately.
Feel free to agree or disagree at jdipaola@tribweb.com or @JDiPaola_Trib on Twitter.

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July 20, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Hanging out at ACC Media Days in Pinehurst, N.C.

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PINEHURST, N.C. — ACC coaches, players, execs and, of course, the media began gathering at the Pinehurst Resort Sunday night to set the stage for the 2015 college football season.
Lots of star power here, but that’s nothing new for this historic venue that served as host for the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open last year.
Each of 14 ACC schools will be represented by its coach and two players over the two-day event, but the most popular attraction may be Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher .
Fisher is coming off three consecutive ACC championships, a national title in 2013/2014 and a College Football Playoff semifinal appearance last New Year’s Day. But that’s not the only reason he’ll be answering so many questions.
Two ugly off-the-field incidents have overshadowed Florida State’s preseason preparations. Two 19-year-old players — running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback De’Andre Johnson – are accused of assaulting two 21-year-old women in bars on consecutive nights last month.
Cook, who was Florida State’s leading rusher last season with a school freshman record 1,008 yards, has been suspended indefinitely. His name is still on the roster.
Johnson, whose assault was caught on video, has been dismissed from the team.
Fisher subsequently banned his players from going into local bars (not a bad idea, coach) as he tries to teach responsibility and accountability.
Meanwhile, with clouds hovering over the program and quarterback Jameis Winston in the NFL, Fisher must figure out a way to beat out Clemson for the ACC Atlantic Division championship. And that won’t be easy — even if Cook does return.
Reporters here are talking about Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw for 279 yards and ran for two touchdowns against South Carolina last season — while playing on a torn ACL in his knee.
Another name to watch: Miami running back Joe Yearby. Some who follow the Hurricanes’ program believe he can be as productive as former running back Duke Johnson, now with the Cleveland Browns. Johnson rushed for 1,652 yards last season.
Player interviews begin Monday at Pinehurst after Commissioner John Swofford meets the press at 11:30 a.m.
Swofford

Pitt will be represented by reigning ACC Player of the Year James Conner and 300-pound senior defensive tackle Darryl Render.
ACC officials also will reveal Tuesday the preseason conference MVP and predicted order of finish, as voted by media members covering each school. The preseason All-ACC team will be announced Thursday after everyone has gone home.
I voted Conner as my player of the year. Plus, I put Conner and Tyler Boyd on my All-ACC team at running back and wide receiver.
Where did I pick Pitt to finish in the Coastal? Second to Georgia Tech, no less.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. But that’s only one more rung up the ladder from where last year’s team finished with a horrible defense.
With Boyd and Conner — two of the best players in the nation at their positions — quarterback Chad Voytik and an experienced offensive line, Pitt will score enough points. I’m eager to talk to Render on Monday to see what tricks coach Pat Narduzzi, who was a genius at Michigan State, has for the Pitt defense.
I believe Narduzzi will coax enough big plays from the defense to make Pitt relevant in the conference title chase throughout the season. Even with a killer three-week stretch from Oct. 3-17 that has Pitt playing at Virginia Tech, home to Virginia and at Georgia Tech.
By the way, Pitt’s non-conference schedule (home to Youngstown State and Notre Dame and on the road at Akron and Iowa) is ranked the 10th-toughest in the nation by Sporting News.
Here’s my order-of-finish ballot:
Coastal: Georgia Tech, Pitt, Virginia Tech, Duke, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia.
Atlantic: Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina State, Louisville, Boston College, Wake Forest, Syracuse.

I predicted Georgia Tech to defeat Clemson in the ACC championship game, based largely on the Yellow Jackets’ incredibly athletic quarterback Justin Thomas and an option offense that is difficult for the opposing defense to simulate in practice. Thomas, who ran for 1,086 yards last season, is my quarterback pick on the preseason team.
If Georgia Tech wins the ACC title, it will mark the first championship for a Coastal team since Virginia Tech won it in 2010.
Here’s my complete All-ACC ballot:
Quarterback — Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas.
Running back — Conner and Boston Colleges’ Jon Hilliman.
Wide receiver — Boyd, Clemson’s Mike Williams and North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer.
Tight end — Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges.
Offensive tackle — Georgia Tech’s Bryan Chamberlain and Florida State’s Roderick Johnson.
Offensive guard — North Carolina’s Landon Turner and Virginia Tech’s Wyatt Teller.
Center — Duke’s Matt Skura.
Defensive end — Virginia Tech’s Dadi Nicolas and Clemson’s Shaq Lawson.
Defensive tackle — Virginia Tech’s Luther Maddy and Georgia Tech’s Adam Gotsis.
Linebacker — Louisville’s James Burgess, Florida State’s Terrance Smith and Boston College’s Steve Daniels.
Cornerback — Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller.
Safety — Duke’s Jeremy Cash and Virginia’s Quin Blanding.
Kicker — Florida States’ Roberto Aguayo.
Punter — Wake Forest’s Alex Kinal.
Specialist — North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer.

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July 17, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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A close look at the Pitt football media guide

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I was so excited about receiving Pitt’s hot-off-the-presses 2015 football media guide that I left it under some old newspapers on my desk when I went home Thursday night.
0717151422a
So this blog post finally emerges Friday.
As always, the guide is professionally done by Executive Associate Athletic Director E.J. Borghetti and staff members Ted Feeley, Celeste Welsh and several others. The information is so useful to my daily tasks in covering the beat that I went through two of them last season.
This year’s cover features the Cathedral of Learning, its top floors illuminated, and a Pitt script helmet sitting in a patch of green grass.
Noted in the media guide are a few changes to the football staff that I found interesting:
Former Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop, one of the best to play the position at Pitt, has been promoted from volunteer assistant to defensive graduate assistant.
Also named defensive grad assistant is Phil DeCapito, who served the past three years with Pitt defensive line coach Tom Sims at Youngstown State. Phil’s dad Philip played for Pat Narduzzi’s father Bill Narduzzi on two NCAA playoff teams at YSU.
Former Pitt wide receiver Mike Shanahan, seventh on Pitt’s all-time reception list with 159, made the move from volunteer to offensive grad assistant.
Dave Bucar is back as an offensive grad assistant after two years as the line coach at Tiffin University. Bucar previously worked at Pitt from 2009-2012.
Also back is former Pitt safety Eric Thatcher, a former grad assistant (2010), who spent the past two seasons on the Slippery Rock staff. Thatcher is an assistant director of player development at Pitt, replacing Mickey Turner, who joined Paul Chryst in Wisconsin as tight ends coach.
Landan Salem, son of tight ends coach Tim Salem, also has been named assistant director of player development.
Mark Diethorn continues to move up the ladder, assuming the title of director of recruiting this season after two years as a recruiting assistant (2012-2013) and one (2014) as assistant director of player personnel.
Emil Boures, son of the former Pitt offensive lineman Emil Boures Sr., has been named recruiting assistant after spending last season as a volunteer.
Among those missing is former recruiting assistant Joe Hueber, who has joined the Green Bay Packers scouting staff. Big break for Hueber, who moves closer to his dad, former Pitt offensive line coach Jim Hueber, now living in Minnesota.
And you don’t even have to look hard for these additional nuggets:
— Five of Pitt’s seven losses last season were by point margins of 4, 5, 3, 5 and 1.
— Five of the first seven games are on the road, but four of the last five are at Heinz Field.
James Conner is 10th all-time at Pitt in rushing yards (2,564) and needs only 707 to move into second place with Ray Graham.
Tyler Boyd needs only 40 catches and 627 yards to become Pitt’s all-time leader in those categories over Larry Fitzgerald. Boyd averaged 82 and 1,218 over his first two seasons.
— Kicker Chris Blewitt has more field goals (12) from 40 yards or longer than from 20-29 and 30-39 (nine each).
— Senior defensive end Ejuan Price, who missed all of last season with a chest muscle injury, is listed as a starter over junior Shakir Soto, who started all 13 games. (Interesting, but we knew that in the spring.)

A new starter at offensive right tackle is not listed on the depth chart after Jaryd Jones-Smith had season-ending knee surgery this month. The media guide lists sophomore Aaron Reese as the backup, but redshirt freshman Alex Bookser and junior Dorian Johnson are possibilities. Bookser manned the right guard position in the spring, but center Alex Officer could replace him, with the return of Artie Rowell to center. Johnson started two games at left tackle in 2013.

Next stop: Pinehurst, N.C., for ACC Media Days on Monday and Tuesday. Lots of questions for Narduzzi. I’m sure he can’t wait.

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June 27, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Voytik gets chance to show off his growth to the Mannings

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Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik is growing in ways far beyond the extra 5 pounds he has added this off-season.
Voytik will be among 40 FBS quarterbacks invited to the Manning Passing Academy, a prestigious quarterback school run by Peyton and Eli Manning. Organizers refused to release the names of the college quarterbacks who will be in attendance July 9-12 — Voytik said his buddy Gunner Kiel of Cincinnati is one of them — but they come from every Power 5 conference and several others.
There will be 125 staff members, including the Mannings (who live and eat with the campers) and several other NFL players offering instruction to 1,000 young players.
Meanwhile, Voytik and teammates are organizing off-season workouts at the Pitt practice fields (coaches aren’t allowed to be there if a football is in use), and he said attendance has been excellent.
Voytik said he hopes to pick up skills of all sorts at the camp, especially at the leadership seminars. He said he wants to learn the proper way to light a fire under teammates, something at which Peyton Manning excels.
Voytik has a lot going for him — he’s strong, smart, eager to learn and determined to turn Pitt into a winner. Plus, he was an effective quarterback in the second half of last season. He said he has picked up a little something from each of the four Pitt quarterbacks coaches he’s been around since he was recruited by Todd Graham and Todd Dodge in 2011.
What’s it mean? Hey, that’s why they play the games.

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June 26, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Fans, media welcome Barnes’ transparency

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When Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes told a group of reporters he had a 2 1/2-hour meeting with Pat Narduzzi last week, I didn’t expect Barnes to reveal any details.
Wrong!
There’s a new sheriff in town, and what a refreshing change.
Most top-level officials, either at a university or in the NFL, like to keep matters in-house. But when I asked Barnes what he talked about with his football coach, he was quick to answer with an interesting tidbit.
Seems one of the things Narduzzi wants is the ability for the coaching staff to utilize charter flights during recruiting trips to increase efficiency and reduce wasted time. Anyone who has traveled on a commercial flight knows how much time can be wasted waiting in airports.
College coaches are almost always busy juggling multiple duties. It’s important for them to get back to the office as quickly as possible after visiting a recruit.
Barnes said that’s a simple request that can be funded through donations. The man came to Pitt with the knack for building a successful athletic program with the help of benevolent donors. At Pitt, he won’t be shy about asking for help.
Barnes said big donors want to see more transparency and a clearer vision for the future. Looks like he plans to do that, and not just by getting donors involved. He said the Panther Fans Experience Committee, which already has 350 applicants for 20 positions, will include season-ticket holders, corporate donors, single-game buyers and students, who usually don’t have any money to give (after tuition).
Among Barnes’ talents is his ability to ask for money and make friends at the same time. Not many can pull that off.

During his 41-minute meeting with reporters, Barnes was asked if he has learned the words to “Sweet Caroline.”
“That’s a pretty good tradition,” he said of the Neil Diamond song that is traditionally played between the third and fourth quarters at Heinz Field. “We just need to keep the students there after we sing it.”
He’s already aware of the other tradition — students getting up and leaving after the final note. (Something I never understood when the game is over by mid-afternoon.)
He also mentioned that some attendance figures he has seen suggest there are more students at games at Heinz Field than there were at Pitt Stadium — an assertion often mentioned by former AD Steve Pederson.

Not surprisingly, the Tyler Boyd question came up, and Barnes didn’t duck it.
He said he spoke to 70 incoming freshman student-athletes Sunday night, and gave them a dose of reality, collegiate-style.
“We talked about responsibility,” he said “Yes, you will be held to higher standards as student-athletes because more eyes are on you. We want to recruit good character and sometimes good character makes poor decisions.
“But all in all, it’s incredibly important to me that our coaches have high expectations for our student athletes. In turn, the student-athletes have high expectations for themselves and are accountable for their mistakes.”
He said the decision for any potential punishment for Boyd, who is facing DUI charges in Jefferson Hills, will be Narduzzi’s to make. But Barnes said he reserves the right to review and adjust any discipline handed down by one of his coaches.

A couple of recruiting notes: Maurice Ffrench of New Brunswick, N.J., tweeted Thursday night that he made a verbal commitment to Narduzzi. He would be the seventh committed player in Pitt’s Class of 2016.
Ffrench, 6-0, 180, plays cornerback and slotback at New Brunswick where he totaled 1,500 yards rushing and receiving and six interceptions. He has offers from Army, Buffalo, Central Connecticut State and Villanova.
Also, Ruben Flowers, a four-star wide receiver from Lima, Ohio, will announce a decision Friday. He lists Pitt as one of his final choices, with Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky and Cincinnati.
Lima coach Mike Fell said Flowers brings the physical presence to the wide receiver position, despite a 6-4, 185-pound frame.
“He is very, very physical for a high school kid,” Fell said. “It’s very hard for them to tackle him. He’s a good blocker, too.”
Rivals.com ranks Flowers 50th in the nation among wide receivers.

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June 4, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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It’s a big weekend for football camps

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High school football prospects looking for world-class instruction can’t go wrong choosing between camps scheduled this weekend for the South Side and Imperial.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi resumes his camp schedule Friday and Saturday, with many of the top area rising seniors planning to attend. Meanwhile, the fifth annual Joe Moore O-Line camp will be held Saturday and Sunday at West Allegheny High School.
The Moore camp plans to accommodate nearly 200 players, according to organizer Joey Diven, some from as far away as Virginia and many attracted by a nearly unbelievable stable of instructors.
What makes the camp unique is coaches travel from all over the U.S. on their own dime and work all weekend (about seven hours a day) for no pay as a tribute to Moore, a former Pitt and Notre Dame line coach who died in 2003.
“That’s the respect and love and admiration they have for Joe Moore,” Diven said.
The cool part: Every camper will get a chance to work with every instructor, according to chief instructor Russ Grimm.
Grimm, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Steelers coach, played on the greatest Pitt line of all time (coached by Moore) that included Bill Fralic, Mark May and Jimbo Covert.
Instructors listed on the camp’s Website (joemooreolinecamp.com) are:
— Former Canevin star Tom Clements, now associate head coach of the Packers.
— NFL line coaches Paul Dunn (Texans), Mike Munchak (Steelers), Pat Flaherty (Giants), Andy Heck (Chiefs) and Juan Castillo (Ravens).
— Former Pitt line coach Tony Wise.
— High school coaches Bill Cherpak (Thomas Jefferson), Bob Palko (West Allegheny) and Matt Morgan (Plum).
— Chiefs center Eric Kush and former Giants center Jim Cordle.
— Ravens scout Andy Weidl of Mt. Lebanon.
— Former Pitt and NFL players Fralic, Covert, Emil Boures, Greg Meisner, Dean Caliguire, Randy Holloway, Kirk McMullen and Joe Villani.
— Former college players J.C. Pelusi and Chris Jacobson (Pitt), John Wojtowicz (Penn State) and Jordan Halter (Notre Dame).
I spoke with Grimm briefly Thursday. He said this will be his third season out of the NFL after leaving the Arizona Cardinals. It’s still hard to believe he’s not coaching.
“It’s killing me,” he said. “If the right person gets a (head) job, I might get back into it.”
Asked about latest coaching transition at Pitt, Grimm said, “I like what they are doing at Pitt. I hope they do something with the contract to keep (Narduzzi) there. Pitt is too good of a job for it to be a steppingstone.”

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June 4, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Central Catholic’s defense loaded with prospects

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The immediate question isn’t where all of those Central Catholic football players will go to college next year. We’ll know in due time. (Actually, we already know running back Ronnie Jones has verbally committed to Toledo.)
What worries me is if Central Catholic’s opponents this season will score. That looks like a powerhouse defense coach Terry Totten is putting together.
Let’s start with the secondary.
Safety Bricen Garner and cornerback Damar Hamlin (total offers: 42). Garner was one of the most athletic defensive backs at Pitt’s prospect camp last Sunday, earning him an almost immediate offer. He is good, and most likely getting better.
“I loved it,” he said of the Pitt camp. “The coaches were good. They taught me things I could use this year.”
(More bad news for Central foes.)
Hamlin, a more than occasional visitor to Pitt spring practices, is the fourth-rated player in Pennsylvania (No. 2 in the WPIAL behind Woodland Hills running back Miles Sanders). Hamlin has offers from Pitt, Auburn, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and UCLA and 19 others.
Lining up in Central’s front seven will be two of the best players at their positions in the WPIAL — defensive tackle Rashad Wheeler and linebacker Ron George (total offers: 21).
Wheeler, ranked No. 19 in Pennsylvania, has a Pitt offer. So far, George, who also was at the Pitt camp, can choose from among Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio), Toledo, Old Dominion, Temple and Western Michigan. Both lists will grow over the summer, I suspect.
Each of the four uncommitted players is no hurry to make an announcement. Garner, 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, said he plans to sit down with his family before deciding. There is no definite timetable, but he said the schools that stick out to him are (in no order) Pitt, Cincinnati, UConn, UMass and Toledo.
As for Pitt, he believes coach Pat Narduzzi’s staff has changed the environment surrounding the team.
“The energy is different,” he said. “You can feel what they are trying to do with the program. (Narduzzi) is one of the best coaches, in my eyes. He knows exactly what to do and how to win.”
Meanwhile, Garner said he is enjoying the recruiting process.
“You can only do it one time in your life,” he said. “You have to take it all in.”

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June 1, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt prospect camp attracts players from several states, including Nevada

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Pitt’s first prospect camp of the spring/summer season attracted more than 125 players Sunday to the South Side facility, and they came in all shapes, sizes and ages. The classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018 were represented, including rising sophomore quarterbacks Troy Fisher of Central Catholic and Jake Cortes of Peters Township.
I spent considerable time gauging the talent level by striking up conversations with several of the high school and college (non-Pitt) coaches in attendance. Some of the schools represented included Duquesne, Grove City, New Hampshire, Kent State, Malone (Ohio) and Lafayette. I didn’t take attendance, but those were the shirts I saw.
The consensus: There was plenty of talent working out under the direction of Pitt’s coaching staff to satisfy everyone, even the small-school coaches who were taking copious notes. By late Sunday night, there were no commitments to add to Pitt’s current three-man class of 2016, but that will change as we get deeper into June. Camping continues at Pitt over the next two weekends.
Defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour of DePaul (N.J.) Catholic tweeted Sunday night that he was “blessed” to receive an offer from Pitt. It is his ninth, including offers from Iowa and Wake Forest. He stands 6-foot-2, 282 pounds. Included with Dwumfour’s tweet was a picture of Aaron Donald.
The player who looked as impressive as anyone was Aliquippa linebacker Kaezon Pugh, who can cover a lot of ground with his 6-foot-1, 203-pound frame. Pugh also plays running back for the Quips, but he worked out extensively with Pitt linebacker coach Rob Harley and did well. One high school coach told me that Pugh may have been Pitt’s No. 1 target among all the athletes working out Sunday.
But there’s already plenty of competition for Pugh. Among his offers, according to Rivals.com, are Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Miami, Mississippi State, Missouri, Nebraska, Pitt, Virginia, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
If he has a good year athletically and academically, Pugh could be included among the top three prospects in the WPIAL by the end of the season, positions currently held by (in order, per Rivals.com) Woodland Hills’ Miles Sanders, Central Catholic’s Damar Hamlin and McKeesport’s Khaleke Hudson.
Rising junior offensive lineman Noah DeHond of the Peddie School in Highstown, N.J., was hard to miss at 6-7, 325 pounds. He worked out Sunday with offers in hand from Pitt, Alabama and Wisconsin.
Another player who stood out was Chandler Park (Mich.) Academy wide receiver Jalen Martin, who wasn’t on the original list, but was a late addition as a walk-up. Judging from the reception he received from Pitt’s coaches, he was welcome, indeed.
Martin, 6-2, 192, was among the top pass catchers at the camp, and after everyone had gone home he spoke with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and worked out one-on-one with Harley. Martin didn’t get an offer, but he has six from the MAC — Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Toledo, Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green and Akron. He’s also the 12th overall prospect in Michigan.
Two players who were not at Pitt on Sunday were the Jackson twins of Point Breeze and Allderdice — James and Tim. James, a 6-2, 173-pound quarterback who is being recruited as an athlete, injured an ankle recently in gym class, according to Allderdice coach Jerry Haslett. Tim, 6-2, 165, is a wide receiver. Both are extremely athletic.
They want to go to college together, and Haslett — a veteran coach of 30 years — plans to meet with them and their family this week to discuss the specifics of their recruitment.
They already have an offer from Arizona State, one that arrived before the Sun Devils coaches even talked to Haslett. Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia have not offered, but their coaches have been around Allderdice so often recently that Haslett, the athletic director, may have to start charging rent. Penn State seems particularly interested.
One of the highlights of the day was a circus catch by tight end Sean McKeon of Shepherd Hill Regional (Mass.) High School. While falling onto his back, McKeon, 6-4, 230, tipped the football to himself and secured the catch. Harvard, Yale, Pitt, Boston College, Colorado State, Virginia and 11 other schools have offered McKeon. He is rated only a two-star by Rivals, but earlier this year, he was the fourth overall prospect in Massachusetts.
Prospect who traveled the farthest: Rising junior tight end Grant Carrigan of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. I’m guessing Carrigan is a by-product of Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi’s willingness to cross whatever borders necessary to uncover prospects.
One other note: Several Pitt players helped with the drills, including James Conner, Chad Voytik, J.P. Holtz, Mike Caprara and Artie Rowell. Rowell’s recovery from his knee injury is progressing well, and he might be able to practice without any limitations when training camp opens in August.

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