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Zoo Effect

For a college basketball student section, the Oakland Zoo is having an ever-increasing role in the Pitt football recruiting.

Its influence became noticeable two years ago, when the Zoo used a sign with a checklist to entice LeSean McCoy to choose the Panthers. Two weeks ago, the Zoo started using a dry-erase board to write messages to prospects making their official visits.

Houston quarterback Kolby Gray didn’t hesitate to sign that board, and Jersey City (N.J.) defensive back Jason Hendricks was rushed courtside to check his name off, as well. Despite the theatrics, both players already had committed to Pitt.

That wasn’t the case with Bernardo Nunez.

The 6-foot-3, 234-pound defensive end from Hoboken, N.J., was hesitant and had to be persuaded to sign the board. He sheepishly donned a gold Zoo T-shirt, even though he hadn’t decided.

Now, it’s official.

Nunez made a verbal commitment to the Panthers tonight, choosing Pitt over scholarship offers from Maryland, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Rutgers. He is Pitt’s 18th recruit from the Class of 2009.

We’ll have to start a separate count for the Zoo.

· Word is that Sal Sunseri, the former Pitt All-America linebacker and assistant coach, is leaving the Carolina Panthers to join Nick Saban’s defensive staff at the University of Alabama.

After coaching at Pitt from 1985-92, including one game as interim head coach, Sunseri bounced from Iowa Wesleyan to Illinois State to Alabama A&M to Louisiana State to Michigan State before leaving for the NFL in 2002.

Why is this significant to Pitt?

Sunseri is the father of Panthers redshirt freshman quarterback Tino Sunseri, who is expected to compete for the starting quarterback job either this fall or next. And Alabama loses its starting quarterback, John Parker Wilson, to graduation.

Before that led to any speculation of whether Tino Sunseri would transfer to Alabama, I contacted the Sunseri family. Here was the response: “Tino is a Pitt Panther and will stay one.”

· Speaking of former Pitt (graduate) assistants and Central Catholic graduates, Penn Hills native Joe Moorhead was named offensive coordinator at Connecticut today.

That gives the Huskies a pair of Central grads designing schemes, as Todd Orlando is UConn’s defensive coordinator. It also should help their Western Pennsylvania recruiting pipeline, where Orlando has been successful in drawing prospects and Moorhead was a key WPIAL recruiter for Akron under J.D. Brookhart.

· Finally, I confirmed today that former Pitt tailback LeSean McCoy — how weird is it to read that? — has signed with an agent.

The winner of the Shady sweepstakes? Drew Rosenhaus, who has at least one player on every NFL team and represents the likes of Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, Edgerrin James and Plaxico Burress.

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