When Nic DiLillo says Pitt recruited him “like no other school,” he isn’t kidding. The Madison (Ohio) tight end, who announced his verbal commitment to the Panthers Monday, has the personalized cards to prove it.
“Every other week, I’d have a hand-written letter from every coach,” DiLillo said. “They treated me like family. No other colleges did that.”
Even after DiLillo made a verbal commitment to Clemson in May, the Pitt football staff never backed off its pursuit of the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder who is ranked a top-20 prospect at his position by recruiting services.
The Panthers first won over DiLillo’s parents, sending a Mother’s Day card signed by every member of the staff to Christine DiLillo and a Father’s Day card to Tony DiLillo.
The cards, Nic said, are hanging on his refrigerator.
“They were struck by that; I wasn’t going there and they were still recruiting me,” DiLillo said. “My mom got teary-eyed. She was wishing that I was going there. From day one, they’ve loved Pittsburgh.”
DiLillo said that distance was a major factor. After experiencing a 12-hour car ride for a Clemson camp two weeks ago, the 17-year-old decided to drive to Pitt on his own to make an appearance at Dave Wannstedt’s individual skills camp.
“Something wasn’t right about it,” DiLillo said of his early commit to Clemson. “My family, friends and coaches have been there through everything, and I thought it wasn’t fair to them for me to go so far away.”
Pitt coaches must have sensed as much. Madison offensive coordinator Mike Martin said that Wannstedt and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, who was DiLillo’s primary recruiter, visited the school last month even after DiLillo had committed to Clemson.
“Coach Rhoads looked at me and said, ‘I still think we’re going to get him.’ They never let up,” Martin said. “Realistically, Nic was going through a growing period, maturity-wise, in the last four months. He had to make the decision that was right for him and he eventually saw it.”
Rhoads continues to prove his worth as a recruiter. He has helped Pitt sign two of the gems of its past two recruiting classes, Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward offensive lineman Joe Thomas in 2006 and Erie Strong Vincent receiver Maurice Williams this year.
“I could call him and talk about anything,” DiLillo said of Rhoads. “We developed such a close bond, such a close relationship.”
DiLillo also noted that he has developed strong relationships with tight ends coach Brian Angelichio and student-athlete development coordinator Mike Antonoplos.
Under NCAA rules, only the nine members of the coaching staff (head coach and eight position coaches) are permitted to go on the road for recruiting. Because of that, Antonoplos, one of Pitt’s top recruiters, is often overlooked.
Antonoplos has played a pivotal role for the Panthers as an astute talent evaluator and pseudo-recruiting coordinator. He watches countless hours of film with Wannstedt and organizes and hosts prospects during their visits to Pitt for Junior Day and Blue-Chip Day. His knack for developing relationships with prospects has paid dividends with LeSean McCoy and now DiLillo.
It was Antonoplos who arranged for the Mother’s and Father’s Day cards to be sent to DiLillo’s parents and later arranged for DiLillo to attend the individual skills camp on June 15. That same day, West Scranton tight end Hubie Graham – another top-20 tight end the Panthers have targeted- was making an unofficial visit to Pitt.
“I got to talk to him the whole day,” DiLillo said of Graham. “I like him. He’s a real cool kid. We got along really well. I could see us playing together. Pitt is one of his top three schools, he said.”
Now that Pitt has DiLillo in the fold, landing Graham would be considered a major score. Graham is regarded as the state’s top tight end prospect and is ranked No. 10 nationally by Scout.com and No. 12 by Rivals.com.
What’s stunning to see is that even though DiLillo is ranked only a few spots behind Graham nationally, he is regarded as the fifth-best tight end in Ohio by Rivals.com.
The state’s top prospect is a tight end, Cincinnati Elder’s Kyle Rudolph, who has committed to Notre Dame. So are two other top-10 prospects, Trotwood Madison’s Brandon Moore (No. 5, Michigan) and Dublin Coffman’s Jake Stoneburner (No. 6, Ohio State). Toledo Whitmer’s Kevin Koger, ranked No. 15, is undecided but favors Michigan and Ohio State.
In a lesser year at the position in Ohio, the Panthers might not have had much of a chance with DiLillo. But Pitt never gave up on DiLillo when he committed to Clemson, and the Panthers’ perseverance is paying off.
“It is tough,” DiLillo said of his state ranking. “It makes you want to work harder, to be better. You never stop working until you’re there.”
After taking a roundabout route to becoming a Pitt Panther, getting to Oakland via South Carolina, it appears Nic DiLillo has finally arrived at his intended destination.