Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Seven recruiting targets that could change everything for the Panthers

There are two kinds of recruits that you need to build a successful football team. One is the ability to find under recruited players who you can develop into talented college players. The jury is still out on whether or not Paul Chryst and his staff have done that but I think most would agree that he has added some intriguing raw prospects. The other is to add elite talent like Tyler Boyd who is already standing out as very different than the rest of the players in the program. Obviously not every elite prospect will pan out, and likewise there will be under the radar prospects who end up being stars. But more often than not your chances are much better if you land highly coveted prospects.

In the recent past the Panthers usually end up with three or four such players a year. Last year there was three with Johnson, Boyd, and Scott Orndoff.  In other words, the Panthers can win with who they are recruiting but to win big they will need more elite prospects. The good news is that there are seven such players right now that the Panthers are heavily involved with. If they somehow manage to land all seven, the talent level of the program goes up sharply, not to mention that the next class will look at Pitt much differently.

If the Panthers miss on most of these players it will not be the end of the program but it will definitely make it more difficult for Chryst to win big in the coming years. While some have mentioned the many years that it took successful coaches to win big, the truth is, that was the case many years ago. Things move much quicker now. Most coaches now have a four year window to reach the level that the program desires and if you can't recruit big in your first few years than winning big in the fourth year may be a stretch.  That's why Chryst and his staff can jump through the window right now, but if he doesn't the window may start to close a little.

Dravon Henry- The Aliquippa star is the best prospect in PA and the pipeline between Aliquippa is long and prosperous for both schools. Many schools competing for Henry's service, especially Penn State, have been trying to convince him to break that pipeline and to be his own man. Henry recently eliminated the Nittany Lions and realistically it appears to be a battle between Pitt and West Virginia. It's hard to imagine Pitt losing an elite WPIAL prospect to the Mountaineers, especially when that program seems to be floundering. That's why I think Pitt is the favorite at this point, even if he and his father seems to be wavering.

Henry would be the most important recruit during Chryst's tenure. Not only is he the best player in the state but he also has a chance to star immediately.  And anytime that you can find a star at cornerback, you're defense immediately goes up a notch.

Montae Nicholson- At one point the Gateway star was considered a lock for Florida State by many, then those same people had him pegged for Michigan.  But Michigan ran out of room for him and Florida State is considered more of a long shot. He has upcoming visits to Michigan State and Oregon, but it would be a surprise if either got him in the end.  That realistically leaves Pitt and Penn State as the most likely destinations, and the Panthers are coming on strong.

The 6'3" 200 pound Nicholson is a great athlete who can make an immediate impact at either wide receiver or safety.  With Devin Street and Jason Hendricks graduating, and not a lot of talent behind them, grabbing him will be essential.  And now more than ever that could happen.

Shai McKenzie- The Panthers are suddenly looking promising for the future at running back thanks to the bruising duo of freshman James Conner and recent commit Qadree Ollison.  But McKenzie has a better pedigree than either and adding him would mean the program has three chances for a running back to be a star.

McKenzie drives Pitt fans crazy, but I talked to him plenty and he has always really liked Pitt. He once made Florida State the favorite, then Virginia Tech, but when push comes to shove, there's still a good chance that the Panthers can land him.

Alex Bookser- Hard to believe but the future of the Panthers offensive line is very bright.  Young players like Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson could be stars and there are others who are almost as promising.  But you can never have too many and Bookser would be a great addition.

The 6'6" 300 pound Bookser needs work but his size/athletic combination is excellent. He's the type of lineman that Chryst can really turn into something special after three or four years in the program, max.

Pitt is considered the favorite at the moment.

Anthony Davis- This was once considered a lost cause. For some reason the Panthers staff did not recruit Davis hard initially and he decided to follow his former Gateway head coach to Temple where Terry Smith is now an assistant. But Davis attended the first game of the season at Pitt and now he appears that he could switch to the Panthers, especially since his mother reportedly wants him to be a Panther.

At 6'1" and 175 pounds, Davis has great size if he sticks at cornerback. But he also has very good speed and great athleticism. A real ballhawk who could be a star safety if he doesn't make it at the corner.

Somehow, despite offers from Penn State, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Miami, Michigan State, and North Carolina he is very underrated.

Juwann Winfree- The Panthers desperately need some more playmakers at wide receiver and this 6'2" 180 pound New Jersey native is good enough to get offers from the likes of Georgia, South Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska.

An added bonus is that he may be an even better safety, so if the Panthers land Nicholson and put him at wide receiver, Winfree could always move to safety if he doesn't work out on offense.

Marquese Dudley-Gordon- Pitt doesn't seem to do well with legacies but Shane Gordon's brother could easily change that. The Panthers are considered the heavy favorite for the 6'1" 190 pound Fort Lauderdale safety. A potential star thanks to his hard hitting and great range.

Dudley-Gordon has the potential to be a big time safety as you can tell by an offer list that includes Louisville, Arkansas, Michigan State, Florida State, and Wisconsin.


  1. I normally don't think this way but with the "dirt" that was reported today on OK St and the links to that mess on WVU's staff - I'd be throwing that out there and using that as ammo to anyone local who was thinking about going to WVU. It might turn out to be nothing, but the fact that they have ties to that era and they are even mentioned in the same story is bad publicity. Who knows where that goes? Anyhow, I look at this list and predict we get maybe 3 or 4 of these. All 7 would be too good to be true.

    1. We can all dream a little... can't we.
      I'd love to see what happens.

      For the life of me, I can't figure out why the 4 wpial players haven't decided yet. They are letting opportunities slip by.
      Are they really evaluating the coaches/team?
      or is it an ego thing so they can continue to get lots of media attention throughout the season?
      Don't know.

      Frankly, the longer they wait, the better odds it is for Pitt for the 4 wpial prospects as other colleges will have pulled offers from them by then. (I don't count Davis yet)

    2. Did you ever think that these kids might be waiting to make official visits to the campuses in their top five. Maybe they don't want to commit without exploring their options. Some of these kids can't afford to foot the bill on trips to Florida, Nebraska, Alabama et al. Players can't make official trips until the start of their senior year. Their football season takes the next 10 weeks at least. Why does it have to be an ego thing? Maybe they are looking for the situation that works best for them.

      Blue Chip Dad

  2. I would think the advantage Pitt has is to play these guys early then the other schools. It would be nice to get the top 4 or 5

  3. Chris, right now we have 17 verbals how many more do you think we will get? How high can we go with this class?

    1. There was a scholarship board on rivals site.
      Last I recall, I believe Pitt has "officially" 20 scholarship openings or thereabouts.
      I suspect Chryst will go up to 25 expecting more transfers, etc.

    2. There are 17 Seniors/RS Sr on roster.
      But last I saw, they were at 82 scholarship players on roster. Don't know if they gave any to walkon. I believe Chapman's went to EJBanks.
      So, that is how I came up with 20 btw.

    3. Can you please post a link to the Rivals list? I can't find it on the site.

  4. Since most of the guys are highly regarding and seriously considering Pitt, that's a very encouraging report.

    At this point, Chryst and the staff have to absolutely be all over these 7 and there really isn't any excuse for not getting them all.

    They are there for us and maybe the staff has learned their lesson from not going after Foster as hard as they should have as many have speculated.

    The future of this program may hinge on these 7. Let's all pray together...:)

  5. Chris,

    Let's say the panthers land "The Big 7" where do you think that takes their recruiting ranking? I know curently its about a 42 nationaly. I ask cause a 42 national ranking typically doesn't get a program to a BCS Game. All that gets you is embarrased on national TV to FSU.

  6. If I was these guys, and my heart was telling me Pitt was the place, I would wait and see how the first few games of the season go before I commit (aka make sure my head agrees).

    The first game against FSU showed them what the atmosphere can be like, now they need a game or two to really show the staff's system and its improvement.

    So, the fact that these guys havent committed elsewhere yet seems to me that these guys are reassuring themselves that Pitt is wthe right place for them and this a very good sign for Pitt.


  7. Regarding Ollison...

    Need to temper my enthusiasm a bit after watching highlights from multiple games.

    He is a good back. But he does not jump out at you as far as explosiveness goes. Looks a little soft. Also a little plodding in the way he runs.

    However, at times he does show quick feet and good vision and cutting ability.

    As far as speed goes, agree 4.5 might be pushing it. I would say 4.6 to 4.7 is probably right.

    Still a good get. You can tell he's got athletic ability. But needs to get stronger in order to improve explosiveness and speed. Has the potential to be a 4.5 in the forty if he works at it.


    1. I'm not the slobbering expert track fan of high schooler like a certain frequent (And I do mean, FREQUENT!!) poster in here. And I never eat pecan pie.

      That said, I think a running back as big as Ollison running a 4.6 or 4.7 should be more than fine.

      I still think official 40 times -- that are run in shorts & track shoes -- can be very misleading (and I know you're not saying otherwise, PoD). Things like how fast is he in pads & cleats on grass? How well does he accelerate, when someone's chasing him, or when a LB or CB are hanging on? How well does he cut? etc. are equally (and probably more) important.

    2. Emmitt Smith is one of many who ran 4.7. Hell, news flash, some guy named Ray Graham ram a 4.7 and he did okay.

    3. Straight line speed doesn't always matter that much for RB. I'm not saying it doesn't help, but how quick and instinctive a kid is and his field vision are much more important in being a successful back. I know Joe D likes track guys, but last I checked the game isn't played is shorts on a cinder track.

  8. Chris, dudley gordon would commit but grades are holding him back from what i hear

  9. Would rather have a 4.7 with great vision and some power versus a 4.5 guy with no vision and falls at the first touch of a defender. Running downhill is always a plus too. Conner does that currently. McKenzie would be a real nice fit in this offense, with the potential being stockpiled.

    I am fine with 1 out of 7 or 7 out of 7, preferring the latter. I want players that want to be here. That is what we really need. WVU may be in for some trouble with deforest and holgorsen at a minimum. They are doing all they can to preempt the ncaa and I sense they will make an example of deforest fairly soon.

    Quick ? as I don't follow football in NY. Doea Q play linebacker too or 100% RB? Great size, great speed for both positions. Strength and conditioning should take a 4.7 guy and get that down to 4.5 just on technique. Add in strength and speed and it should be an easy 4.5. Keep going Paul Chryst and Company. Great days ahead!

  10. Except for Bookser, the rest are either DBs and/or WRs. Where Wanny would get pretty good DLs and RBs, PC seems to specialize in OLs and DBs. Both got some good WRs.

    Hope PC gets more balance in the future -- mostly worried about lack of quality DLs.

    1. Chryst had to recruit heavy on Oline and TE early on. Without them, he is unable to play his style of football. Moving forward, I expect there to be more balance.

      That said, he is not going to turn away a top WPIAL prospect just because he's met a quota for a class. He will find room for guys like Henry and Nicholson...Or just because he's gone heavy on Oline recently, doesn't mean he's going to not recruit Sterling Jenkins. Gotta try and keep the gems home.

      I do share your concern on the DL. I want to see some big time athletes coming in at DE, guys that can get off the line and pressure the QB.


  11. Word is the run game will be the emphasis on Satuday against New Mexico.

    There makes sense for a couple of reasons.

    First, if you haven't noticed this year's version of Pitt’s offensive line is HUGE and pretty athletic compared to last. They will be called upon to pound New Mexico and open lanes for the backs.

    It’s also a great oppportunity for the line to fine tune against a team they should dominate at the point of attack.

    The second reason for getting the run game in gear is a bit more cause for concern.

    It seemed obvious against FSU that at times Tom Savage suffered from tunnel vision that left him oblivious to defenders who were only too glad to oblige by picking off the ball (or nearly picking it off in the one case).

    First, there’s Savage’s explanation for the interceptions which includes a little harmless fingerpointing by blaming miscommunication (i.e. the receivers running the wrong route). In today’s Trib, Savage sees it as totally fixable.

    “Even after the picks, there was never, ‘What the heck am I doing out there?’ I knew what happened on all of them. I know how we could adjust and improve from there.”

    However, Offensive Coordinator Joe Rudolph says while Savage did some “great” things, there seems to have been a little someting else going on as well.

    “There are some times where we can make better decisions and be smarter.”

    Prior to FSU, it was pointed out that while at Rutgers, Savage showed himself to be susceptible to interceptions and sacks. That in fact is what the stats from his freshman and sophomore years show… and it was no secret among Savage’s critics in Piscataway.

    While communication can be improved, getting someone to change the ills of their ways from the past is much more difficult.

    Chryst and Rudolph worked miracles with Sunseri last year and to Tino’s credit he showed himself to be pretty coachable in response to their efforts to make him a better quarterback.

    However, there is this to consider. Despite the success in dramatically reducing the number of interceptions and inreasing the number of completed throws, there was one major deficiency in Tino’s game that remained unfixable. All of Chryst and Rudolph’s expertise and attention of detail could never rescue Tino from his inability to perform his best when the pressure was on and the game on the line.

    Again, the near impossible task of trying to change the inner-most aspect of a person’s psyche.

    Hopefully, Savage will prove to be as coachable as Tino or even more so.

    But will that be enough?


  12. The pass that 'wasn't intercepted' .. was just about the worst decision I've ever seen. Savage had a clear look at his WR covered closely by 2 defenders. (Tino taking a sack would have been a better decision)

  13. Here is the breakdown"

    Henry: 50% Pitt
    Bookser: 20%
    Nicholson: 10%
    Gordon 10%
    Davis: 10%
    Winfree: 10%
    McKenzie: 5%

    I'll be surprised if we get more than two of these guys.


    1. "I'll be surprised if we get more than two of these guys."

      You need to polish your crystal ball.

      Alex Bookser:


      All analyst except for two analyst (Both nitters) predict Pitt. BTW, Nick Polak NEVER predicts anyone going to Pitt.

      Juwann Winfree:


      Most predict Pitt, however Maryland coming on strong.

      Marquese Dudley-Gordon:


      Pitt is a HEAVY favorite to come to Pitt

      Anthony Davis:


      He is also a HEAVY favorite to come to Pitt.

      Now Henry, Nicholson and McKenzie are up hill battles, but Pitt is coming on strong with Nicholson and Henry.

  14. Ugh... more overrated WPA "talent".

  15. Anonymous@527
    Your breakdown is inane. You should be surprised if any of the recruits on your list goes to Pitt at all

    1. Both words would be appropriate, lol

  16. Chris - good article. And spot on. Chryst needs these guys. His collection of players with just MAC level offers or his 2 star recruits just will not cut it in the ACC. You need talent - lots of it, and so far I have been very underwhelmed about Chryst's ability to recruit that talent. So as you note, these 7 could make or break him

    1. HC do not recruit, really do not get where this comes from. The assistants recruit, the HC closes when needed. Chris mentioned the Aliquippa pipeline in regard to Dravon Henry. Do you think that was established by a HC? Umm , no, try Chris LaSalla, Aliquippa native and an assistant on the Pitt staff for years. Bob Junko also plays a very pivotal role in recruiting and has been on the staff for years.

      Whether you get these kids or not depends on the relationship the assistant develops with the kid and the opportunity he'll have at that school. In the end, I expect Pitt to land Henry, Bookser and Gordon. If they don't land Bookser, Haering should be sent packing.


  17. Friday night at 10:00, Pitt QB commit Wade Freeback leads #5 rated St. Thomas Aquinas of Florida into the Super Dome in New Orleans to play #1 John Curtis Christian.

    John Curtis is heavily favored.

    Believe one of the ESPN channels may have it.


  18. Chris I wanted to get your opinion on ESPN's classification of Pitts OOC basketball schedule as "embarrassing".

    1. ESPN is correct.
      Last year was worse.
      Easy OOC to get 20 wins. smh But Dixon has his work cut out this year with the roster turnover, etc.

  19. Bad news Alabama wants Dravon Henry and he is listening.

    1. He should listen because of the defensive coaches for Pitt are not good.

      But quite frankly, I don't like how some of these wpial stars are "negotiating" with Pitt to get offers for their friends. It happen with Pitts 2 years ago (2 for 1). It happened with Boyd last year (3 for 1).
      In my opinion, it's a negotiating ploy.

      Pitt needs to put an end to this and the only way to do that is to pull the offers from all the Quip players.

    2. Wow,

      So Alabama wants Bookser and Henry. Michigan State wants Davis and Nicholson. VT or FSU wants McKenzie. Looks like Pitt ain't gettin S**t.

    3. It takes two to negotiate Joe D. When you don't have many good players, as a coaching staff, you do what you can to get the good players.

      Negotiation only come from certain schools when they're desperate.

      Other schools do it quite often. Ohio State - Glenville and Trotwood-Madison kids. Michigan - Cass Tech. West Virginia - Miramar. USC - De La Salle

    4. Sometimes that's the only way you can get kids, Joe. It happens all of the time. I live in the West A school district, and I can tell you for a fact that's how it works.

    5. Yeah because thats working out so well for Foster being buried on the depth chart behind kids that will be there another 2-3 years. Henry will go to Pitt.

    6. Anonymous@ 4:44

      How can you say Foster made the wrong choice? The kid got into Alabama by the skin on his teeth. Academically he was not ready regardless of what school he would have been attending. Some people use that red-shirt year to mature as a person not because of a lack of talent.

      Dorian Johnson is starting at Pitt, does that mean he made the wrong decision? He's in the same situation as Foster because the O-Line is pretty deep and he doesn't have to play right away.

      From the looks of the first game, you should know the benefits of red-shirting because FSU's red-shirt FR QB James Winston had a career day on Pitt to the tune of 356 yards and 4 TD's. Maybe he shouldn't have picked Florida State, lol

    7. I don't know exactly when but I believe Foster is going to transfer out of Alabama.

    8. @21

      You say Foster is leaving because???

    9. Umm, probably because he isn't playing and doesn't have a shot at seeing the field for two years. Dorian Johnson will be starting by the middle of the year; the OL isn't that deep and he's better than Clemmings, which is why he's already getting on the field as it is.

      Foster made a stupid decision, plain and simple. I'm sure it's great to have Alabama be interested in you, but as you said, he barely qualified to get into school in the first place, so do you honestly think he wants to be a program depth kid for four years and possibly see the field in two years?

      Picking FSU as QB is a lot different than picking Bama as a WR. Winston was given a shot and beat out an upperclassman. Foster is sitting behind 7-8 kids that have one year in the program, and it isn't like Bama runs a spread offense.

  20. Ii meant to say that Dorian Johnson isn't, lol

  21. Chris - How many people are at the New Mexico game? Looks awfully empty for how well Pitt Admin said ticket sales went. Do you think recruits would be excited to play in front of this?

    1. Because New Mexico is one of the worst Division 1 teams. Not many people are excited to see this game.

    2. It's New Mexico, not exactly a marquee opponent. Just enjoy Pitt kicking the crap out of the Lobos.