When Dave Wannstedt returned from the recruiting trail, the Pitt football coach did so with the belief that the longer Western Pennsylvania’s top-rated recruits waited to decide, the better the Panthers chances were of landing them.
Without naming players – which would be an NCAA violation – Wannstedt emphasized that several WPIAL prospects had Pitt on their short lists. Then one writer warned that many didn’t expect the Panthers to receive commitments from the area’s highest-rated players.
Wannstedt’s reaction: “Really?”
Wannstedt wasn’t surprised, but rather took it almost as a personal affront that he couldn’t do it. There was a gleam in his eye, as if he had just been issued a challenge.
That leads us to the surprising news that Jeannette star Terrelle Pryor eliminated Pitt Friday when narrowing his college choice to 11 schools. It will be interesting to see Pitt’s reaction, whether Wannstedt wishes Pryor well and moves on or if the Panthers intensify their recruitment of him.
Even so, I’m guessing the latter.
If Pryor has no real interest in Pitt, he has done the staff a favor by giving notice in June. That allows the Panthers to target another top quarterback prospect quickly.
At the moment, the Panthers are being stung by perceptions: that they were telling other prospects that Pryor would play receiver; that they aren’t willing to adapt their West Coast offense to a dual-threat quarterback; and that they aren’t on pace to become a national championship contender.
The worst? That Pitt can’t recruit its backyard.
So let’s address reality v. perception:
• Don’t believe the rumors that Pitt coaches were telling quarterback prospects that Pryor would play receiver. To tell second-tier players that the nation’s No. 1 prospect would play another position would be the height of foolishness. The only quarterback from the Class of 2008 Pitt offered a scholarship to was Pryor.
• The West Coast offense Pitt runs under Matt Cavanaugh would be more dangerous with a dual-threat quarterback who is as effective running as he is passing the ball – and it would better prepare Pryor for the NFL.
• The point there is no defending, however, is Pitt’s 11-12 record the past two seasons. If Pitt were coming off back-to-back bowl games, it might be viewed as an up-and-comer.
• Wannstedt has proven a terrific recruiter, especially with the state’s top prospects. But this is one of the most talented WPIAL classes in years, and the Panthers haven’t yet received a commitment from a WPIAL prospect. Pitt lost Trinity linebacker Andrew Sweat to Ohio State. It could lose Pryor. And Gateway linebacker Shayne Hale, who still has Pitt in his final 11, appears to be favoring Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Virginia.
That could change if/when Thomas Jefferson tackle Lucas Nix picks Pitt. Nix, rated No. 26 nationally by Rivals.com, would be the Panthers’ highest-rated recruit in years. And he would address a glaring need, especially with two starters graduating.
The Panthers also have received verbal commitments from the Wilmington tailback Chris Burns and Johnstown cornerback/return specialist Antwuan Reed, and are in the mix with Aliquippa receiver Jonathan Baldwin, West Scranton tight end Hubie Graham and Easton defensive back Jarred Holley.
It’s possible Pitt could end up with the state’s top running back, receiver, offensive tackle, tight end and defensive back. That wouldn’t completely offset the loss of the nation’s top prospect going elsewhere.
But it could be just the sales pitch Dave Wannstedt uses if the Pitt coach takes Friday’s news as a challenge instead of a setback and, as expected, turns up the heat on Terrelle Pryor.