There was a time not very long ago that Ejuan Price envisioned playing most of his college football career in Big Ten stadiums. Price signed a letter of intent with Ohio State in February and was still committed to the Buckeyes until June.
But the offseason troubles at Ohio State, which included the resignation of head coach Jim Tressel in May amid an NCAA investigation into violations by the coaching staff and players, made Price have a change of heart.
Price, one of the top linebacker recruits in the country last season at Woodland Hills High School, landed at Pitt, where he is making an early impact for the Panthers. He'll make a second consecutive start at outside linebacker Saturday afternoon at Iowa, another Big Ten school that he strongly considered.
"It is kind of crazy," Price said. "I've been thinking about that the last couple of nights. I got to know them real well. Now I'm playing against them. They're real cool guys. It will be cool to see how that plays out."
Price had been the latest in a long line of WPIAL recruits to sign with Ohio State. Ten players from WPIAL schools played for the Buckeyes from 2004-10. One of them was Price's cousin, former Gateway Gator Dorian Bell, who was suspended last season by Tressel and has since transferred to Duquesne.
Price and Bell were looking forward to being college teammates. Now, in a strange twist, they're playing for different teams in their hometown.
"It didn't play out that way," Price said. "Things happen. I feel like I ended up in the right place. I feel like this is the perfect position for me. I really like it a lot. I feel like God blessed me to play here. I'm just trying to take advantage of it."
Price wavered throughout the recruiting process and spoke with Pitt coach Todd Graham and Tressel on national signing day before faxing in his letter of intent to the Buckeyes. The third school among Price's final three was Iowa, which is coached by Upper St. Clair graduate Kirk Ferentz.
Price took an official visit to Iowa during the recruiting process and developed a good rapport with Ferentz and his staff. On his visit, he stayed with Hawkeyes starting running back Marcus Coker, who has 181 yards and two touchdowns for the 1-1 Hawkeyes.
Graham is now hoping Price can help fix a defense which struggled in its first two games. Pitt's rookie coach had to juggle his lineup to get Price onto the field more. He moved Brandon Lindsey from starting outside linebacker to starting defensive end and starting defensive end Aaron Donald to backup nose tackle.
"When you can have him and Lindsey [on the field], I like that lineup," Graham said. "And it allows us to put Donald at his natural position, where he is very disruptive. It's what we do on third downs. We're trying to get more speed on the field."
Price had three tackles, including one for a 2-yard loss and a quarterback hurry, in Pitt's 35-29 victory against Division I-AA Maine last week. It was a solid performance for a true freshman in his first start, but Graham is expecting better play in the weeks to come once Price feels more comfortable in the defense.
"I have a lot of faith in him," Graham said. "He's going to be one heck of a player. You only get one freshman year is what I tell him. We have to keep pushing him to get better. He's definitely not redshirting. I think he can help us win. He can impact the quarterback. He hasn't even begun to turn it loose yet."
NOTES -- Graham has conducted practices from 9- 11 a.m. every day since the season started. That might be a benefit Saturday with a scheduled 11 a.m. Central Daylight Time start at Kinnick Stadium. "I like it," Graham said. "We practice every day at 9 o'clock. I like early afternoon games. That's one of the advantages to practicing in the morning. We're used to being out at that time anyway."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.