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The Best Since . . .

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It doesn’t take poetic license to say Lucas Nix is Pitt’s best offensive line recruit since Bill Cherpak, who, incidentally, coaches Nix at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Cherpak was an All-American at Steel Valley before picking the Panthers, planning to follow a pipeline of WPIAL linemen playing for Pitt and then in the NFL.

Under Joe Moore’s direction in the 1970s, Pitt assembled Russ Grimm (Southmoreland), followed by Ron Sams (South Fayette), Jimbo Covert (Freedom), Jim Sweeney (Seton-La Salle) and then Bill Fralic (Penn Hills).

Pitt has since had its share of talented offensive linemen, with Jeff Christy, Ruben Brown, Bryan Anderson, Rob Petitti and Charles Spencer all drafted by the NFL. (Christy, Brown and Spencer were all converted into offensive linemen).

They arrived before Internet recruiting services started tracking prospects nationwide with daily updates, so it’s hard to keep in perspective exactly where Nix ranks.

“Recruiting wasn’t like it is now, so you didn’t know,” Cherpak said. “It’s hard to say.”

It’s fair to say, however, that Cherpak played on Pitt’s last great offensive line, alongside center Dean Caliguire, tackles Roman Matusz and Tom Ricketts and fellow guard Mark Stepnoski.

Cherpak played his senior season with a broken neck and couldn’t pass a physical, but the other four were NFL draft choices: Ricketts in the first round to the Steelers, Stepnoski in the third to the Dallas Cowboys in 1989; Caliguire in the fourth to the San Francisco 49ers and Matusz in the 11th to the Chicago Bears in ’90.

What Nix represents is the re-establishment of Pitt as a power player in recruiting WPIAL offensive linemen. The 6-foot-6{1/2}, 298-pound Nix is a prototypical left tackle prospect who ranks as a top-30 player and a top-6 tackle nationally, according to both Rivals.com and Scout.com.

That was the Achilles’ heel for Walt Harris and his staff. For all the skill players they assembled, for whatever reason, they couldn’t lure the WPIAL’s top linemen. In back-to-back years, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and offensive line coach Paul Dunn – both former Panthers’ offensive linemen – have changed that dramatically.

It started with the late signings of Moon’s John Bachman and West Allegheny’s C.J. Davis in the Class of 2005 and has included Baldwin’s Jason Pinkston last year and Keystone Oaks’ Chris Jacobson this year.

The magnitude of Jacobson’s commitment was overshadowed because it happened so early. He picked Pitt in February of his junior year, when Temple and West Virginia were his only other offers. After a dominant performance at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the 6-3, 285-pound Jacobson ended up ranked the nation’s No. 3 offensive guard by Scout.com, No. 9 by Rivals.com.

“Jacobson is just awesome; he’s the best high school lineman I’ve seen the last few years,” said Cherpak, whose Jaguars played Keystone Oaks in conference play last season. Cherpak then rattled off the names of Nix, Jacobson and sophomores Bachman, Pinkston and Joe Thomas and said, “I think Pitt’s going to have a great line.”

Maybe, as with Nix’s recruitment, one we can call Pitt’s best since Cherpak played for the Panthers.

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