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Woodland Hills pipeline a great fit for Pitt defense this season |

Woodland Hills pipeline a great fit for Pitt defense this season

| Tuesday, August 25, 2015 10:15 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt cornerback Lafayette Pitts practices Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, on the South Side.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt's Mike Caprara goes through drills during practice Thursday, March 26, 2015 on Pittsburgh's South Side.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt defensive back Jevonte Pitts goes throgh drills during practice during spring drills Thursday, April 9, 2015 on Pittsburgh's South Side.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt defensive lineman Khaynin Mosley-Smith practices Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 on the South Side.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Pitt's Ejuan Price takes down Virginia's Kevin Parks (25) for a loss on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Woodland Hills football coach George Novak is a frequent visitor to the University of Pittsburgh. Games, practices, meetings with coaches. Novak tries to attend as many functions as possible.

But nothing compared to Novak’s trip onto campus this spring when two of his guys — seniors K.K. Mosley-Smith and Lafayette Pitts — earned their diplomas and degrees in administration of justice.

“That part of it made me proud,” he said.

In less than two weeks, Novak might have another reason to be beaming.

Five Woodland Hills graduates could comprise nearly half of the Pitt defensive starting lineup when the Panthers open their season Sept. 5 against Youngstown State.

They include:

• Pitts, who will make his 39th start at cornerback. He has missed only one game the past three seasons.

• Mosley-Smith, who has been lining up at first-team defensive tackle after starting 12 games last season. If he’s not starting, he will figure prominently in a rotation that includes Tyrique Jarrett and Darryl Render.

• Mike Caprara, competing with Bam Bradley for the start at the money (weakside) linebacker spot. He was a four-year starter at Woodland Hills, and the school’s leading all-time tackler. At Pitt, Caprara has learned all three linebacker positions well enough to be the first player off the bench, if not a starter. “He does everything right,” Novak said. “Smart kid, sure tackler, very, very positive leader.”

• Defensive end Ejuan Price, who had four sacks as a freshman in 2011. He has risen to the top of the depth chart this season after fighting through injuries from 2012-2014. He likely will start the first game while Rori Blair serves a one-game suspension, but he will be used regularly in pass-rush situations all season.

• Jevonte Pitts, Lafayette’s cousin who is competing with Patrick Amara and Jordan Whitehead for the start at strong safety.

“They are hometown guys,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “There hasn’t been one disappointment.”

All five players were part of Woodland Hills’ most recent WPIAL championship team that defeated Gateway, 10-0, in 2009. Novak also won titles in 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2002.

Pitt’s coach has been visiting Woodland Hills for years, even helping to recruit linebacker Jason Russell, now an academic advisor at Pitt, when Narduzzi was an assistant at Cincinnati.

Narduzzi said he was impressed with how Novak organized scouting combines for college prospects.

“He had a great video with kids up against the wall so you could tell how tall they were,” he said.“The thing I remember about Woodland Hills and George Novak is he is about the most honest guy in this town you could possibly have.

“I don’t think he remembered me when I came through as young coach, but I remember him. He was the man in this area, for sure.”

Novak follows the Pitt program closely — he urged other high school coaches to send emails to the university in 2010 in support of fired coach Dave Wannstedt — but he doesn’t push his players in any one direction. For example, running back Miles Sanders, the No. 1 player in the state by, verbally committed to Penn State.

Narduzzi said he appreciates Novak’s insistence on telling the truth about his players.

“George has always been a standup guy as far as telling you what he thought he had.”

Note: Pitt backup running back Rachid Ibrahim had a cast on his left foot while signing autographs Tuesday night at FanFest at Heinz Field. Narduzzi was not available for comment.

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