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Five thoughts on Pitt football’s 2019 recruiting class

Jerry DiPaola
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Nine days into this month, Pitt football fans were concerned.

Not one member of the 2019 senior class had pledged to join the Panthers, and some fans were afraid of what that meant.

Was the 5-7 season last year too much for coach Pat Narduzzi to overcome?

Was there too much competition coming from inside the state and within the ACC?

Then, Father’s Day happened, and Narduzzi got back in the game. Over that weekend, nine of Pitt’s current 14-member class pledged to enroll next year.

Actually, if you know anything about Narduzzi and the way he operates (at his own pace and methodology), he was never out of it. Recruits don’t just fall out of the sky without much planning and prodding.

But what does that big haul mean to the future of the program?

It’s difficult to get a handle on recruiting, even a year or two after the fact. It only makes sense that it’s almost an impossibility to judge the class six months prior to signing day. Remember: All 14 commitments are nonbinding verbals.

But that doesn’t stop the speculation and evaluation.

Here are five thoughts on Pitt’s 2019 class, as incomplete as it is:

Where are the WRs and OLs?

There are none at either position on the current list, and two of Pitt’s wide receiver targets — Darrell Harding Jr. and Jaden Payoute — committed to Duke and Virginia Tech, respectively.

But Pitt only loses one senior wide receiver, Rafael Araujo-Lopes, next year. If players such Tre Tipton, Shocky Jacques-Louis, Maurice Ffrench and Indiana transfer Taysir Mack develop as coaches believe they can, Pitt should be fine at that position in ’19. Perhaps Narduzzi can afford one down recruiting year at wide receiver.

And don’t forget Narduzzi has proven to be pretty good at flipping other schools’ recruits.

On the offensive line, seniors Alex Bookser, Jimmy Morrissey, Mike Herndon and Connor Dintino will leave after the ’18 season, and all four will start or be major contributors this year.

The rebuilding must continue because there is little proven depth on the second and third teams.

Even though Pine-Richland offensive linemen Andrew Kristofic (Notre Dame) and Michael Katic (Indians) have committed elsewhere, Pitt is among the final four for Sharpsville four-star Ja’Quay Hubbard (6-foot-6, 318 pounds) and the top six for Fort Lauderdale three-star Kaleb Boateng (6-5, 290).

Competition will come from Virginia, Syracuse and Mississippi State for Hubbard and Cincinnati, Louisville, Indiana, Maryland and Purdue for Boateng.

One QB per year

When Tom Donahoe was the Steelers’ director of football operations, he said he wanted to add at least one quarterback to the roster every year. The position is too important to ignore, and Narduzzi knows it all too well.

The first two Narduzzi recruited in ’15 and ’16 transferred, Kenny Pickett (’17) will start this season, and there will be at least two options — Nick Patti (’18) and Davis Beville (’19) — when Pickett leaves after the 2020 season.

Pitt vs. Penn State

Penn State finished eighth in the final Associated Press polls in 2016 and ’17, but would it surprise you to know that the No. 21 Nittany Lions are only six spots ahead of No. 27 Pitt in the current Rivals.com recruiting rankings?

Penn State has one five-star — Virginia running back Devyn Ford — and six four-stars among its nine verbals. Pitt has no five- or four-stars.

The majority of Pitt’s verbals are three-stars, and two are two-stars. But none of those prospects have played their senior year of high school. Rankings are temporary, especially in June.

The Charlie factor

One of the most important developments of the offseason was Narduzzi being able to retain defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who interviewed with Alabama, according to AL.com.

Partridge has strong recruiting ties in talent-rich Florida, and he is mentoring one of the fastest rising talents on the team, defensive end Rashad Weaver.

Pitt has five verbals from Florida prospects, and five of the 14 pledges are defensive linemen.

What about the WPIAL?

Again, it’s early, but none of the 29 seniors who have pledged to Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia play in the WPIAL.

As much as it upsets local coaches, some of whom have long-standing ties to Pitt, Narduzzi doesn’t obsess over local recruits, especially when the best ones look elsewhere from the outset.

That’s why there are as many from Florida as there are from Pennsylvania and New Jersey combined.

No one cared that Pitt All-Americans Hugh Green, Antonio Bryant, Ruben Brown, Craig Heyward and Quadree Henderson didn’t play in the WPIAL. But everyone cheered when they made big plays on Saturdays.

This year, Pitt has offered cornerbacks Joey Porter Jr. of North Allegheny and M.J. Devonshire of Aliquippa, Norwin safety Jayvon Thrift, Dino Tomlin of Shady Side Academy and Latrobe center Trent Holler. Devonshire is the No. 2 player in the state, tops in the WPIAL. Porter is second in the WPIAL.

Since Narduzzi’s first recruiting class in 2015, Pitt has signed five of the 12 players ranked by Rivals among the top three in the WPIAL.

Not a great track record.

Of the five, Jordan Whitehead is in the NFL, Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford could be starters in Pitt’s secondary this season and Kaezon Pugh and Alex Paulina left school before making an impact.

Just goes to show: In recruiting, you never know.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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