Pitt: Graham's first recruiting class features speed

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Pitt signed 18 players Wednesday and has two others already enrolled in school to make a 20-player recruiting class, and that is impressive considering Panthers coach Todd Graham and his staff had about three weeks to recruit.

Graham was hired Jan. 12 and immediately started an attempt to salvage a Pitt recruiting class that fell apart after coach Dave Wannstedt's firing in December and the hiring, then firing of Michael Haywood.

Graham called the tiny recruiting period "a unique" experience and said he was proud of his staff for getting a lot accomplished in a short period of time. He said he made 24 in-home visits in the 12 days he was on the road and, in the process also began to lay the foundation and make some inroads for Pitt's future recruiting.

This particular Panthers class is not highly rated, but Graham said that is not an issue because it is a class full of a lot of good players who provide what he and his staff believed to be the team's biggest need -- speed.

"It has been challenging, but that is what makes this business so great," Graham said. "The foundation of our program is to bring men of great character into the program. But, when you start talking about personnel, our philosophy is one that is very unique so we're not real concerned about rankings, we're not real concerned about what everybody else is doing.

"We're concerned about our unique philosophy and our unique approach. We look for character, work ethic, discipline, and those are the characteristics you are going to find in this class."

Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, the offensive coordinator at West Virginia for the Mountaineers' run of Big East Conference championships in the early and middle part of the decade, echoed those sentiments about rankings.

He pointed out that when he was at West Virginia, the Mountaineers never had highly ranked recruiting classes, but always had a lot of success on the field because the players fit the system and thrived in it.

"Without naming names, we took a backfield with a no-star player and two two-star players and set all kinds of records," Magee said, smiling, as he referred to Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt.

In fairness, White and Slaton were three-star recruits, but neither was highly recruited -- particularly White, who had some offers as a receiver but not as a quarterback -- and they formed the foundation for some excellent teams.

Graham hopes he found a number of such players, and he said his emphasis was speed and "explosive power."

Only three local players -- defensive backs Lafayette and Jevonte Pitts from Woodland Hills and Beaver Falls linebacker Devin Cook -- are in this class, although a fourth, Woodland Hills and Milford Academy lineman Khaynin Mosley-Smith, is one of two players already enrolled.

Although rankings do not matter to the staff, they are at least a quantitative way to see how the class stacks up against other teams, particularly teams in the Big East Conference.

And, to that end, Pitt did not fare well. The Panthers had the conference's top-rated class before Wannstedt was fired were ranked fifth in the Big East according to Rivals.com, and sixth according to Scout.com. The Panthers' class is not ranked among the top 50 nationally by either service.

Rivals.com listed Pitt with one four-star player Trotwood-Madison (Ohio) linebacker Nicholas Grigsby. Scout.com gave only Lafayette Pitts a four-star ranking for the Panthers. Mosely-Smith, signed by Pitt last year, also is listed as a four-star athlete by Rivals.

Graham called Pitts a key to the class because he is "one of the, if not the, best players" in Western Pennsylvania. Pitts committed to Pitt last summer, decommitted and committed to Rutgers after Wannstedt's firing.

Graham said there also was a glaring need for running backs and defensive backs.

Pitt signed four running backs and, at least two must play because the Panthers have only one scholarship running back -- Ray Graham -- on their roster.

The most heavily recruited of the four is Friendship Collegiate Academy (Washington, D.C.) star Malcolm Crockett, who chose Pitt over Michigan, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and West Virginia. The Panthers signed six defensive backs, and three that were highly rated --Pitts, Roderick Ryles of Orlando, Fla., and Lloyd Carrington of Dallas.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com . First Published February 3, 2011 6:15 AM


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