Last week, before everyone split up for family cookouts and fireworks over Fourth of July weekend, North Allegheny wide receiver Elijah Zeise decided to call up the Pitt coaching staff and give Paul Chryst and company one more reason to celebrate.
Zeise, who is about to begin his senior year at the big school in McCandless, told them he was giving them his verbal commitment to play his college ball for the Panthers.
"They were really excited," Zeise said. "They said their Fourth of July is going to be pretty great now."
The coaches had good reason to be in a celebratory mood. Zeise became the 14th member of Pitt's 2014 recruiting class, and 13th player to commit over the past month.
He's the first receiver to join this year's crop, though. As a junior at North Allegheny, playing extensive snaps at receiver for the first time, Zeise caught 23 passes for 677 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
He was a key part of the Tigers' drive to a PIAA Class AAAA championship.
Ultimately, it was that chance to play receiver that ended up playing a deciding factor in Zeise's decision. He also had offers from Temple, West Virginia, Old Dominion and Arizona, and was garnering heavy interest from Ivy League schools Cornell and Dartmouth.
Most schools, though, saw him as a safety at the next level. Pitt and Temple were the only ones to offer him as a receiver, the position Zeise sees himself playing in college.
"I really wanted to play offense, be given a legitimate chance to play offense, and the only two schools that offered me at receiver were Pitt and Temple," Zeise said. "It really came down to those two at the end. Pitt just seemed like the right fit."
It would make sense that Pitt seems like a perfect fit for Zeise. He grew up around the program as his father, Paul, used to cover the team for the Post-Gazette. The younger Zeise remembers going to Pitt games at Heinz Field, and is excited to get his shot at making some plays in Pitt blue and gold.
It doesn't hurt that he'll be playing close to home, representing his city on the field.
"I've always been in the stands watching, and it'll be real cool to be on the other side, with all of my family and friends around being able to come see me play," Zeise said.
Zeise's pledge also represented a milestone of sorts for Pitt, as he was the first prospect to verbally commit to the Panthers since their move to the Atlantic Coast Conference became official July 1. The move was announced two years ago, but this season marks Pitt's first in ACC play and a step forward in the direction of the program.
When making his decision, Zeise factored that in, as well as his opinion that this is the right coaching staff to lead Pitt into a new era.
"The coaches, they all seem like real good guys," he said. "They seem like they're going to get things done. From being there this spring and a little bit this summer, it's pretty clear to me that they've got things going in the right direction. I'm pretty pumped."
With the commitment out of the way, now it's time for Zeise to focus on his senior season with the Tigers. North Allegheny lost a lot of talent -- including quarterback Mack Leftwich, a Texas-El Paso recruit who threw the vast majority of those passes to Zeise last season -- from last year's team that won both the WPIAL and PIAA Class AAAA titles.
But Zeise, who also played for the North Allegheny basketball squad and plans to compete on the hardwood again next winter, isn't buying that the Tigers are in for a down season.
"For me and for the team, I just want to get back to the WPIAL championship [game] and try and bring another one home," he said. "I feel like a lot of people, they're all looking down on us because we lost a bunch of our starters.
"I take that a little bit personally."
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG First Published July 11, 2013 4:00 AM