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Pitt ready for two-TE set

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Pitt had two of the nation’s top-20 tight end prospects at its individual skills camp Friday, and the Panthers appear to be in position to receive commitments from both players.

If Pitt can land West Scranton’s Hubie Graham and/or Clemson commit Nic DiLillo of Madison, Ohio – which is looking like a real possibility – it would be a real coup at a position that’s been nothing but a recruiting headache.

Don’t get me wrong; Pitt has had its good fortune under Dave Wannstedt, especially landing the Scout.com’s No. 1 tight end prospect, Nate Byham, in 2006. But the Panthers also have endured the wishy-washy word of two players who verbally committed only to later back out.

We know the story of Mike Cruz, the Johnstown Bishop McCort junior who called Pitt his “dream school” when committing on April Fool’s Day only to renege three weeks later. We’ll see who gets the last laugh, as Graham (No. 12) and DiLillo (19) are ranked higher than Cruz (26).

But it’s not often a high school athlete walks away from a Division I football scholarship without a backup plan, so it was stunning to see Nick Krupa do so last fall when he backed out of his Pitt pledge to play baseball.

A 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end from Lantana (Fla.) Santaluces High School – which also produced Pitt sophomore linebacker Steve Dell – Krupa stunned everyone, including his football coach, with his decision.

“He just decided baseball was the way he wanted to go,” Santaluces coach Bill Betheridge said. “I didn’t have an idea that was a possibility. It was a complete surprise to everybody. His heart was in it until something happened in the middle of the season. Everybody thought he was sandbagging just to get out of his commitment – but his heart just wasn’t in it. I had never had that happen before.”

With good reason, as the risk is often greater than the reward. When Major League Baseball conducted its First-Year Player Draft June 7-8, 50 rounds and 1,453 selections passed without Krupa being picked.

Instead of playing football at Pitt, Krupa will play baseball at Palm Beach Community College. It’s a long way from his original plans but close to home.

“I watched him play baseball and he’s a decent player,” Betheridge said, “but I didn’t think his future was in it.”

Krupa batted better than .500 the past two seasons and was an all-Palm Beach County selection, but he’s considered below-average defensively. Even so, Pitt made it clear to Krupa that he could have played both sports.

“Pitt said he could play baseball, too, that it wasn’t a problem,” Betheridge said. “They were willing to work with the kid.”

That’s not to say there can’t be a happy ending to this story. Former Sto-Rox star Adam DiMichele did the same to Penn State, played two years of juco baseball in Florida and ended up as Temple’s starting quarterback last season.

But Krupa’s decision essentially cost Pitt a chance to sign Thomas Jefferson’s Chris Drager – who could become a star at Virginia Tech – and is probably a big reason why the Panthers have put up with Darrell Strong’s nonsense.

In Byham, Strong and John Pelusi, Pitt has only three scholarship tight ends. Thus, it can’t afford to boot off the team a player who flipped the bird to USF fans and was cited for a Memorial Day altercation with an ex-girlfriend.

That’s not to suggest that Strong should have received harsh discipline for the latter incident, only that Pitt isn’t in a position to overreact and further deplete its depth chart.

With only Jordan Gibbs, a 6-foot-7, 300-pounder projected as an offensive tackle, and 6-3, 200-pound receiver Kyle Hubbard in the incoming recruiting class, tight end is a real priority in the Class of 2008. Pitt might be on the verge of getting two better than the two it lost.

With the way its tight end recruiting has been such a rollercoaster ride, the Panthers are poised to turn a potential disaster into a possible position of power.

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