Pitt did everything in its power to recruit Shayne Hale, but that didn’t prevent the Gateway five-star linebacker from crossing the Panthers off his list of finalists.
And those are the words of his coach.
“For Shayne, it was more of Pitt being awfully close to home,” Gateway coach Terry Smith said. “Shayne feels he at least needs to get away a little bit. Pitt did everything that they needed to. They were in early on him, recruited him hard and heavy. It just didn’t work out in Shayne’s eyes.”
Gateway spent the weekend at Pitt’s South Side football facility, winning its division of the seven-on-seven passing camp. Pitt pulled out all the stops, using that time for Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads and defensive line coach Greg Gattuso to meet with Hale. He also had a chance to spend time talking to tailback LeSean McCoy and cornerbacks Aaron Berry and Aaron Smith, the latter a former Gateway teammate.
It made little difference.
“It just didn’t feel right for me at the time,” Hale said.
On Wednesday, the same day he received an invitation to play in the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Hale narrowed his college choices to Michigan, Ohio State, Virginia and West Virginia.
On Sunday, Terry Smith said, Hale called and told him to cancel their scheduled unofficial visits. They had planned trips to Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State this week, to Rutgers next week and to Alabama and Florida in the third week of July.
“I think he’s tired of this whole process,” Smith said, “and didn’t want to waste time visiting places he wasn’t going to go.”
Apparently, Hale also is dead serious about wanting to go to school with Cameron Saddler, Gateway’s 5-foot-6, 165-pound multi-purpose back and return specialist. They have vowed to attend the same school and it’s no coincidence that three of Hale’s finalists – Michigan, Virginia and WVU – have offered scholarships to both.
Two weeks ago, Hale and Saddler spent a day at West Virginia, where Smith said they had a “great visit.”
“They kind of blew them away with the on-campus visit and hospitality,” Smith said. “That kind of moved them up. They weren’t a player until a week and a half ago. Now, they’re right in the mix.”
Pitt, by contrast, fell out of favor when it withdrew Saddler’s scholarship offer last month. The Panthers reasoned that they couldn’t take two undersized all-purpose players in the same recruiting class. Pitt already has a commitment from a multi-purpose back/return specialist in Johnstown’s Antwuan Reed.
Reed is bigger (5-10, 170) and rated higher by recruiting services than Saddler, although neither is as coveted as Hale. Scout.com ranks Reed the nation’s No. 20 cornerback prospect and Saddler its No. 44 running back, while Rivals.com ranks Reed the No. 47 cornerback and Saddler its No. 59 athlete (or all-purpose back).
Did the Panthers not take the “package deal” seriously?
“I don’t know if they misread it,” Smith said. “Coach Wannstedt is in a difficult situation with not having a lot of scholarships. They got the kid from Johnstown, which fills your need for a small guy. Everyone understands that you can’t take too many small guys, that you can’t take that risk.
“Now, it’s backfiring because Shayne wants to go to school with Cameron. They went back and forth, but now they’re more adamant about it.”
What has to be difficult for Pitt to swallow is that its run of landing five recruits in a seven-day span is sandwiched between being eliminated by Jeannette quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Hale, a pair of WPIAL stars who rank among the top-10 prospects nationally.
The good news is that both Pryor and Hale eliminated Pitt early enough that the Panthers can turn their attention on other prospects and still put together another top-10 recruiting class. As far as they have come on the recruiting trail – landing the likes of LeSean McCoy, Pat Bostick and Lucas Nix – the Panthers still have a long way to go in convincing the nation’s elite players that Pitt is it.
That battle is going to have to be won on the field.