The last-minute defections from Pitt’s 2004 recruiting class had a ripple effect the following year, when Walt Harris was viewed as a lame-duck coach even as he guided the Panthers to their first Big East title and BCS bowl berth.
One of the big swings and misses for Pitt in WPIAL recruiting was Jason Kacinko, a monster tackle from Penn-Trafford who was skilled in pass protection. Kacinko chose Purdue instead and remained committed even after Dave Wannstedt replaced Harris in late December 2005.
“I was already committed to Purdue when coach Wannstedt came in,” Kacinko said. “He really recruited me hard. There was some interest on my part, but I wanted to honor my commitment to Purdue.”
Two years later, Kacinko is transferring to Pitt. He received his acceptance letter last week and is in the process of scheduling classes. A redshirt sophomore, he must sit out this fall under NCAA transfer rules but will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“Things didn’t really work out for me (at Purdue). Football-wise, it didn’t go as I expected. I have nothing bad to say about Purdue; I just wanted to come back home,” said Kacinko, whose girlfriend, Heidi Johnson, is a Pitt student and the sister of former Panthers long snapper Kurt Johnson. “I knew if I was going to go anywhere, I was going to come to Pitt. I got in touch with coach (Bob) Junko and talked to him. He set up a meeting with coach Wannstedt, who said he’d love to have me back.”
Kacinko’s arrival is certainly timely. Pitt returns both starting tackles in seniors Mike McGlynn and Jeff Otah, so adding a 6-foot-6, 305-pound transfer with some Division I experience could lessen the pressure on incoming freshmen John Fieger, Jordan Gibbs and Dan Matha and 2008 commitments Lucas Nix and Ryan Turnley. Kacinko realizes there is a good chance he could start in ’08.
“That’s how you have to look at it,” Kacinko said. “I’m going to see what happens once I start practicing, but that’s something you look at. I’m going to do whatever they need me to do this year, just work hard and see what happens.”
Although McGlynn might move to center to make room for sophomore Jason Pinkston to start at right tackle, Kacinko could increase the Panthers’ options on the offensive line. He played guard and tackle at Purdue, although he appears destined to be a tackle for the Panthers.
“Talking with (offensive line) coach (Paul) Dunn, it seems like they’re going to try me at tackle first,” said Kacinko, who started at right tackle at Penn-Trafford to protect lefty quarterback Tyler Huether’s blind side. “At Purdue, I played right and left so I have experience on both sides. As for comfort level, I’m right-handed so the footwork and stance come easier.
“But it really doesn’t matter to me.”
Pitt isn’t going to hand Kacinko a starting position. He was running with the second-team this past spring at Purdue and joins Pitt as a preferred walk-on, with an opportunity to earn a scholarship in January.
But Pitt has had some success with transfers on the offensive line, most notably Rob Frederick (Tulsa) and Joe Villani (Bucknell). On the other hand, Kevin Cimador (New Mexico State) has yet to crack the two-deep.
Kacinko also has to adapt to Pitt’s West Coast offense, especially the run blocking. Penn-Trafford ran a spread offense and Purdue also has a pass-oriented attack.
“I like to think I can do it all,” Kacinko said. “In high school and at Purdue, we threw the ball a lot so I did a lot of pass blocking. I like to run block, too. My strength right now would be pass-blocking.”
Fortunately, Kacinko has a year to learn the intricacies of the offense and make an impression on the coaching staff. He can begin practicing with the Panthers in August, and is counting the days until training camp begins.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Kacinko said. “It’s a fresh start for me, to come into a new situation and play for my hometown team. I’m real grateful to be part of the team.”