Hopewell’s Ryan Turnley always fancied himself a basketball player until this past football season, when he won a starting job and received Division I attention.
“Ever since then,” he said, “it’s been nothing but football.”
Turnley started playing football in the eighth grade, a by-product of Hopewell’s 2002 WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA champions. Turnley is a classmate of David Posluszny – a Notre Dame recruit whose brother Paul was the star of that Vikings team – and is one of three Division I recruits in Hopewell’s Class of 2008 (multi-purpose back Jared Rains, headed to Cincinnati, is the other).
Back then, Turnley was a self-described “tall, skinny middle linebacker.” He then hit a growth spurt and filled out his 6-foot-5 frame to 296 pounds.
Why is this important? Because Turnley, who made a verbal commitment to Pitt Sunday, never lost his greatest attribute: “I think it’s definitely my quickness and foot speed,” Turnley said. “I’m not the strongest offensive lineman, but that’s something I can improve on.”
Turnley bench-presses 280 pounds and squats 375, hardly impressive numbers for someone his size. That, however, can be resolved with a semester of working out with strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris.
What Turnley brings to the offensive tackle position, aside from his considerable size, is the nimbleness of a basketball player who understands playing the pivot. Footwork is the most important trait in a left tackle, a position both Turnley and Thomas Jefferson’s Lucas Nix, who committed to Pitt Friday, are capable of playing.
With both left tackle Jeff Otah and right tackle Mike McGlynn entering their final seasons of eligibility, this was a position of major need for Pitt. The Panthers also recruited several tackle prospects last year in John Fieger, Jordan Gibbs and Dan Matha, so there is some depth.
“I think the positive thing for Pitt is they’re getting guys like this but they’re not going to have to start,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Bob Lichtenfels said. “They can come in and redshirt, which is what Pitt needs to do.”
* What separates Nix and Turnley from their Pitt predecessors is that both have tremendous potential. It’s no coincidence that both play basketball or that long arms and footwork are a common trait between them.
They also represent a break from Pitt’s past recruiting of offensive linemen. In Nix and Turnley, the Panthers could have a pair of WPIAL prospects as bookends tackles.
Under Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and offensive line coach Paul Dunn, the Panthers have landed Moon’s John Bachman, Burrell’s John Brown, West Allegheny’s C.J. Davis and Baldwin’s Jason Pinkston and, now, Nix and Turnley.
* Trinity linebacker Mike Yancich has narrowed his choices to Connecticut, Michigan State, Penn State, Pitt and West Virginia, and will announce his college choice at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Pitt made a late push for Yancich this weekend at Dave Wannstedt’s passing camp. The Panthers even had Buddy Morris talk with Yancich, a devoted power lifter whose father was a competitive bodybuilder.
Even so, Yancich is expected to pick Penn State.
* In the aftermath of Jeannette quarterback Terrelle Pryor eliminating Pitt, the Panthers have extended scholarship offers to Lake Worth (Fla.) dual-threat QB Star Jackson and Dublin (Ohio) Coffman’s Zack Stoudt, son of former Steelers quarterback Cliff Stoudt.
Pitt offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh also paid close attention to a pair of WPIAL signal callers, Kiski Area senior Josh Vick and Seneca Valley junior C.J. Brown, during seven-on-seven play.
* Pitt was thrilled to finally receive a long-anticipated verbal commitment from Thomas Jefferson tackle Lucas Nix, but it was Jaguars junior tight end Brock DeCicco who opened eyes with his play at the passing camp.
The 6-5, 205-pound DeCicco is the youngest brother of incoming freshman safety Dom, and has developed into a big-time tight end/defensive end prospect for the Class of 2009. Although he starred on offense, especially in the red zone, Brock DeCicco also played middle linebacker and TJ coaches believe his future might be on defense.
* In addition to Brock DeCicco and C.J. Brown, Pitt is keeping an eye on several underclassmen, most notably Gateway linebacker Dorian Bell and receiver Corey Brown, who received verbal scholarship offers. Formal, written offers can’t be made to underclassmen until Sept. 1.
* One of the state’s top defensive backs took an unofficial visit to Pitt Sunday. Easton’s Jared Holley, a 5-11, 170-pounder, is rated the nation’s No. 11 cornerback by Scout.com and No. 14 by Rivals.com. He has scholarship offers from Florida, Iowa, Penn State, Pitt, Stanford, Syracuse and Virginia.
* Talked to Keystone Oaks coach Nick Kamberis this past weekend, and he said All-American offensive guard Chris Jacobson has qualified and enrolled for summer classes starting this week. Florida defensive end Jabaal Sheard arrived on Friday and certainly passes the eyeball test. Pitt would like to redshirt most of its freshman class, but Jacobson and Sheard are two players who could contribute.