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Hitting the (recruiting) links

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Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt raised eyebrows in mid-June when — despite losing seven prominent WPIAL recruits to Big Ten schools and having only three verbal commitments for the Class of 2010 — he predicted the Panthers would produce a “great” recruiting class.

“We are further ahead with this year’s recruiting class with quality names at every position than we’ve been since I’ve been here,” Wannstedt said. “We’re going to end up with not a good class, a great class.”

Since then, Pitt has added a dozen recruits. The Panthers now have 15 verbal commitments and could sign as many as 25 prospects, with 18 players entering their final season of eligibility: CB Aaron Berry, DT Craig Bokor, S Irv Brown, TE Nate Byham, CB Jovani Chappel, WR Greg Cross, LB Steve Dell, TE Dorin Dickerson, LB Adam Gunn, C Robb Houser, RG John Malecki, WR Cedric McGee, LB Shane Murray, DT Gus Mustakas, QB Bill Stull, RT Joe Thomas, WR Oderick Turner and DT Mick Williams.

In addition, five other scholarship players have left the program since the end of the 2008 season: LG John Bachman, DT Tommie Duhart, DE Doug Fulmer, TE John Pelusi and WR/PR T.J. Porter.

The scholarship count could fluctuate, and will have to include the additions of Virginia tight end transfer Andrew Devlin and Beaver Falls receiver Todd Thomas, if he has to spend a year in prep school.

It would be naïve to look at this recruiting class as replacements for the departing players, as the coaching staff generally tries to recruit a year ahead. In that regard, the 2009 recruiting class had its designs on filling the positions of need for this Pitt team’s senior class.

For example, because linebacker was a priority in ’09 – when the Panthers signed Dan Mason and Shane Gordon – there might not be as much prominence placed on the position this year, even though Steve Dell, Adam Gunn and Shane Murray will all play their final season of eligibility.

That said, let’s take a look at the ’10 recruits:

• The first player to commit was Wilmington’s Derrick Burns, the younger brother of Pitt redshirt freshman tailback Chris Burns. Although Derrick plays running back and linebacker for the District 10 and PIAA Class AA champions, he projects as a safety. Pitt needs depth there, as Irv Brown is a senior and Dom DeCicco and Elijah Fields are juniors.

Penn Hills’ Aaron Donald became the first WPIAL player to pick Pitt, and the sack specialist could be a good replacement for Gus Mustakas at defensive tackle. Donald’s brother, Archie, is the starting middle linebacker and leading tackler at Toledo, and Aaron inherited the athleticism despite playing at 6-foot, 260 pounds.

• If he had remained at Central Catholic instead of transferring to Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic before his junior season, Jeff Knox might be regarded as the top player in the WPIAL. Instead, he’s viewed in the same vein, at least athletically, as Fields because of his size (6-2, 205) at safety. Knox and ’09 recruit Carl Fleming are both considered potential strong safeties who could grow into outside linebackers.

• Pitt has had its share of success with players from Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High in LeSean McCoy and Aaron Berry, so it made sense to pursue receiver Salath Williams. At 6-foot-4, he gives the Panthers great size and the ability to stretch the field. Pitt has a chance to eventually boast a receiving corps that features Jonathan Baldwin, Mike Shanahan, Ed Tinker, Williams and Andrew Carswell, all between 6-2 and 6-5.

• The prize of this recruiting class, so far, is Paterson (N.J.) Catholic defensive end T.J. Clemmings, whose public silence on his commitment is a concern. Although he’s a highly rated end, Clemmings often lined up inside in his first year of high school football and could project as an athletic tackle.

Montvale (N.J.) St. Joseph’s Prep cornerback K’Wuan Williams can thank former teammate Kevin Adams, an ’09 Pitt recruit, for helping his recruitment. Pitt found Williams on Adams’ highlight tape, and believe Williams can be a cover corner/return specialist in the Berry mold.

• Pitt’s recruiting bonanza came on a Sunday, when the Panthers landed the following four recruits: Clairton receiver Kevin Weatherspoon, Ashburn (Va.) Broad Run running back T.J. Peeler and teammates from New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep, Brandon Sacco and Bryan Murphy. Weatherspoon is one of the top playmakers in the WPIAL, while Peeler is the big back Wannstedt covets, Sacco projects as a center and Murphy a defensive end.

• Another recruiting coup was the addition of Sto-Rox receiver Andrew Carswell, who, at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, can play a variety of positions. It will be even more impressive if Carswell can convince his teammate, quarterback Paul Jones, to reconsider his commitment to Penn State.

• One of the most highly rated prospects in this class is North Olmsted (Ohio) right tackle Matt Rotheram, who is rated one of the top 10 players at his position nationally by Rivals.com. Rotheram is known to have a nasty streak, and his addition is pivotal to adding depth to the offensive line.

Woodland Hills nose tackle Khaynin Mosley-Smith joins Donald to give Pitt the top two interior defensive line prospects in the WPIAL. Mosley-Smith used a strong camp performance to make an impression on the coaching staff.

Cleveland St. Ignatius tight end Brendan Carozzoni adds depth to a position that loses Byham and Dickerson. With Devlin, Mike Cruz and Brock DeCicco ahead of him, Carozzoni will have the luxury of taking time to fill out his frame.

• The biggest player in the class, and the biggest project is 6-foot-6, 350-pound Lebanon right guard Arthur Doakes, who has great size and strength but limited experience and will need time to develop. But offensive line coach Tony Wise put him through a rigorous workout at Pitt’s camp and signed off on giving Doakes a scholarship, giving credence to the recruiting philosophy that, if you’re going to take a risk, do it on the big guys.

This isn’t a star-studded recruiting class – at least, not yet – but Wannstedt’s ability to put together one strong class after another has provided depth that doesn’t require many immediate-impact players.

The promising thing about this recruiting class is that Wannstedt is known as a strong finisher, and a season in which the Panthers compete for the Big East Conference championship would help tremendously.

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