This article was written to prove that the problem is not the level of WPIAL talent, but rather Pitt's procurement of that talent. The truth is, when Pitt had one of the most talent-laden programs in the country, and in some years, the most talent-laden program in the country, no schools could out recruit Pitt in their own backyard. Even Penn State, a national power in their own right, had trouble landing elite WPIAL talent in the Johnny Majors and Jackie Sherrill years. Think about it. From the early 70's until the early 80's, just how many great WPIAL players went through Penn State? I'll tell you. Penn State had one All-American from the WPIAL in that time, and that was Bruce Clark from New Castle, which is about as far away as one could get at the time and still be in the WPIAL. In other words, since it was an hour away from the city, it really wasn't an area that could be considered Pittsburgh territory.
In that same time period, Pitt signed from the WPIAL future All-Americans Tony Dorsett, Bill Fralic, Dan Marino, Jimbo Covert, Julius Dawkins, Tom Brzoza, and Randy Holloway. And this doesn't even include Hall of Famer Russ Grimm or players like Brian Davis, Curtis Bray, and Sean Gilbert who were generally considered amongst the top five prospects in the country when they signed with Pitt. In fact, the general consensus at the time (well before the recruiting websites of today) was that Davis and Bray were actually considered the best in their respective classes.
Outside of the the state, it was even more rare for Pitt to lose a top WPIAL player. West Virginia never got a kid that Pitt wanted during those years, and very rarely did Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, or anybody else.
And therein lies the problem. The problem is not that there aren't enough excellent players in the WPIAL. The problem is that 25+ years of incompetence and underachievement has left the program fighting like hell just to get a share of an area that once was their sole domain.
That's not to suggest that the program has been horrible locally. On the contrary. They still recruit the WPIAL better than any other school and that's to be expected. I'm simply suggesting that they haven't recruited as good locally as they have been in the past and that fact more than any is why they have not been a top 20 program.
Let's just imagine what the Pitt roster would look like in three years (2014 season) if they got the same level of local commitments that they did in their best years. Some of these players they have already signed or are on their roster. I will also combine any top national recruits that they have already signed or are already on the roster. Here would be a projected lineup in that scenario.
QB- Chad Voytik (RS So.)- We'll assume that if Pitt was recruiting well, he would redshirt.
RB- Rushel Shell (Jr.)- Has the potential to be a star at this time obviously. Isaac Bennett will be a senior.
FB- David Dunham (Sr.)- Mark Giubilato will be a senior, too, and Jaymar Parrish would be available.
WR- Robert Foster (Jr.)- Same as Shell. Could be an All-American by now.
WR- Tyler Boyd (Jr.)- Should be really, really good in his own right. 3rd receiver Demetrious Davis.
TE- Scott Orndoff (RS Fr.) or J.P. Holtz (RS So.)- We'll say both will redshirt in this scenario. Both could be excellent in Paul Chryst's system. Brendan Carozzoni and Drew Carswell will be seniors, too.
LT- Dorian Johnson (So.)- NFL first round talent.
LG- Adam Bisnowaty (RS So.)- Big, mean, and good just like how Chryst likes them.
C- Patrick Kugler (So.)- Same level as Johnson.
RG- Tom Ricketts (Sr.)- Local player via Penn State.
RT- Matt Rotheram (Sr.)- Giant would be a three year starter.
Now as any Pitt fan can see, that is some damn offense potentially. Almost every one is a national recruit. Even more telling is that eight of the starters are WPIAL products. Four- Shell, Bisnowaty, Ordnoff, and Ricketts- are already in the fold. Kugler has already committed to Michigan. But he's just one player and as an interior linemen if there's one player the Panthers could afford to miss on it's him. That leaves Foster, Boyd, and Johnson.
Foster, Boyd, and Johnson are Chryst's first war to keep the best in the WPIAL and return the program to excellence. If they land all three, the future Chryst offense could be both potentially and realistically good enough to put Pitt back squarely on the national scene as an elite team in the near future. Normally projecting that far in advance in college athletics is foolish, to say the least. But one of the truths of college football is that if you name the top five offensive minds in college, Chryst is on that list. He's had extremely prolific offenses at two places- Oregon State and Wisconsin- that were not highly prolific before he got there. You do it once and people can call it a fluke. You do it twice and you're ability should no longer be questioned. It's not a leap of faith to say that with this talent on offense, Pitt's offense could easily be a juggernaut. Chryst has done it with far less talent and never had this type of talent to work with. The possibilities are exciting.
If the offense does live up to Chryst's capabilities, the defense would only have to be solid. It often takes less in college football these days. Teams now are in the top 5 nationally with defenses that are well into the bottom half of defenses nationally. But the Panthers, if they can retain and sustain their local dominance, potentially could be much better than solid.
In 2014, current talented players like Bryan Murphy, T.J. Clemmings, Khaynin Mosley-Smith, Ejuan Price, LaQuentin Smith, Todd Thomas, Eric Williams, Lloyd Carrington, Cullen Christian, Ray Vinopal, Lafayette Pitts, Roderick Ryles, Bam Bradley, and Deaysean Rippy will all still conceivably be on the team. Shakir Soto has already committed to the 2013 class and Tyrique Jarrett will probably return to the fold. And of course theoretically there will be at least a few more very good players added to the 2013 class.
And since the point of this article is to show the talent of the WPIAL, let's for the sake of argument add highly talented 2014 prospects in cornerbacks Dravon Henry (Aliquippa) and Harry Randall (Woodland Hills), DTs Jaleel Fields (Aliquippa) and Brock Boxen (Beaver Falls), quarterback Chandler Kincade (Blackhawk), and wide receivers Brandon Mitchell (Fox Chapel) and Ricky Rogers (Keystone Oaks). And let's not forget a superb linebacking group led by Brenon Thrift (Gateway), Shai McKenzie (Washington), Sage Curry (Beaver Falls), Nate Stone (Greensburg Central Catholic), and Justice Rawlins (Monessen).
I think by now any reasonable person gets the point. The 2013 class is loaded with offensive talent. The cream of the crop is Foster, Johnson, Kugler, Boyd, and Orndoff. Kugler, a WPIAL player for just two years, is out of the picture since he committed to Michigan. But the Panthers can still land the other four. The 2014 class is loaded, too, especially on defense where at least nine local players are considered highly talented, including five linebackers, a position where Pitt needs an influx of talent.
Speaking purely on potential, getting two star receivers, one star tight end, and one star left tackle, all in your own backyard, and all at the same time, is not something most programs can do. Especially a year after landing a star running back, a star guard, and another star tight end the year before. Then next year, Pitt could conceivably add two star cornerbacks, a couple of really good defensive linemen, and a slew of highly talented linebackers to the group. All on a tank of gas.
This is the part where some Pitt fans complain that I'm being too optimistic or that I'm being unrealistic. That would be the case if hadn't happened before. The goldmine for Pitt is right in front of them. There are still enough highly talented WPIAL players to form the backbone of a powerful Pitt program. The great Pitt teams of the past would not let this talent go. And the result was greatness. Pitt could be great again. But to do that they will have to win the battle for the WPIAL.