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Pitt gets its Manny

Manny Williams was accustomed to playing before small crowds at Clairton’s Neil Brown Stadium, so he was overwhelmed by the atmosphere at Heinz Field when the Bears played for the WPIAL Class A championship.

Williams starred as an outside linebacker on defense in covering Penn State recruit Derek Moye, as Clairton defeated Rochester for the WPIAL championship.

“It was nice playing where the Steelers and Pitt played,” Williams said. “I’m just in high school. Playing every home game there? I think I could get used to that.”

When Pitt offered him a scholarship, Williams didn’t hesitate to accept. He made a verbal commitment to the Panthers Monday – becoming Pitt’s first Clairton recruit in decades – and the hometown advantage played a role.

Williams is believed to be the first Clairton football player since strong safety Ray Weatherspoon in 1982-83 to pick the Panthers. Weatherspoon, however, originally chose Penn State before transferring to Pitt, where he played a starring role in the ’83 victory at Notre Dame.

Like Weatherspoon, Williams is a strong safety – even though he plays outside linebacker at Clairton. The Bears employ a 3-5 defensive scheme and use Williams as a hybrid strong safety/outside linebacker.

Williams has 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash and plays centerfield for Clairton’s baseball team, so he’s versatile enough to play safety. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and with a frame that can easily carry 20 more pounds, he has the potential to grow into a weak-side linebacker.

“I handle a lot of ground,” he said. “I can cover well and drop into my zones. I just like playing football.”

Scout.com ranks Williams its No. 29 safety prospect in the country. It was at Scout.com’s All-American Combine at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex in May that Williams first opened the eyes of Division I recruiters.

Although his only other scholarship offers were from Mid-American Conference schools, Pitt was under the impression that West Virginia was on the verge of offering Williams and beat the Mountaineers to the punch.

Williams maintains a 3.0 grade-point average, and finds it gratifying that his hard work is paying off.

“It was a great feeling to know that I was becoming successful,” Williams said. “I’m a hard worker. I have talent. I have good grades. I have a good personality and character.”

Part of that personality is being a loud talker on the field: “Anything that needs to be said, I’ll be saying it.”

Why is that important? It shows his leadership ability. Clairton had one of the best defenses in the WPIAL last season, and Williams has emerged as the best player on a team with several college prospects on that side of the ball.

That became evident to Pitt coaches when Williams attended Dave Wannstedt’s individual skills camp this past weekend, where Williams interacted with defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Paul Rhoads.

“That let me see how they work with the players and how they treat them,” Williams said. “Everything went smooth. He explained how it’s a family down there, how the coaches make sure the kids graduated.”

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