Pitt is it for NFL prospects

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Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt was fresh off the beach in Naples, Fla., late Saturday afternoon when word came. No, not news of the nearly 2 feet of snow that buried Pittsburgh a few hours earlier. News that Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That's Pitt's Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson, thank you very much.

Suddenly, a chilly day on Florida's Gulf Coast -- relatively speaking, of course -- seemed a whole lot warmer to Wannstedt.

"The tradition is alive. That's the best way to sum it up, I guess," he said.

Getting two players in the same Hall of Fame class is a remarkable achievement for any school. That makes six for Pitt: Grimm and Jackson join Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka and Joe Schmidt for eternity in Canton, Ohio. Only six universities have more Hall of Fame members.

Pitt's number should grow steadily. Curtis Martin, the NFL's fourth all-time leading rusher, figures to be a lock. Ruben Brown (nine Pro Bowls as a guard) and Chris Doleman (eight Pro Bowls, 150 1/2 sacks as a defensive end) have a big shot. Down the road, would it really surprise anyone if wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Darrelle Revis make it? It's fair to argue that they are the best of this era at their position.

"Amazing, if you really think about it," Wannstedt said.

Grimm's and Jackson's inductions are especially meaningful to Wannstedt because he was an assistant coach on Jackie Sherrill's Pitt staff when the two played there.

"Got a couple of funny stories," Wannstedt said.

I don't know about you, I'm ready for a little humor after all of this snow.

"Russ came in as a quarterback-linebacker from Southmoreland High School," Wannstedt said. "I remember somebody asking Jackie, 'How long is he going to be with the quarterbacks?' Jackie says, 'Never. He's going to the offensive line.' He got that one right, didn't he?"

A position change for Jackson was a tougher sell to Sherrill.

"I was the tight ends coach and I had Rickey his freshman year," Wannstedt said. "He came to me after the season and said, "This tight end thing isn't for me. I need to get on defense with Hugh.' "

That would be Hugh Green, Jackson's roommate. He was one of the great players in Pitt history, a three-time All-American defensive end.

"So I tell Jackie that Rickey wants to play defense," Wann-stedt said. "Jackie says, 'No way. He's not big enough.' Rickey weighed 187 pounds at the time. Then Jackie says, 'Tell him if he gets up to 200 pounds, I'll put him on defense.'

"So that next spring, Rickey comes to me and says he's ready to get on a scale. He weighed 202 pounds. Jackie says, 'OK, go to defense.' The rest is history."

Here comes the kicker.

"We found out later that Rickey had a 5-pound weight stuck in his pants," Wannstedt said.

Talk about a guy having want-to!

"Those are real-life stories," Wannstedt said. "I love sharing 'em with our alumni, our current players and our recruits."

Mostly with the players.

It's a great motivating tool for Wannstedt. "If a converted quarterback can make it to the Hall of Fame as a guard, you can do great things, too, if you work hard enough."

The fact that Pitt had so many players in the NFL last season -- 21, by my unofficial count -- is a great recruiting tool for Wannstedt and his coaches. The top kids want to play at a school that they believe will help them get to the next level. You had better believe that Wannstedt -- a coach with deep NFL roots -- is reminding recruits that graduating seniors Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham should add to Pitt's NFL total this summer and that Jonathan Baldwin, Dion Lewis, Henry Hynoski, Jason Pinkston, Lucas Nix, Greg Romeus, Jabaal Sheard and Myles Caragein should get there from the current team in the near future.

"I love a quote from Shady McCoy last summer," Wannstedt said of the former Pitt running back who had a big rookie season in 2009 with the Philadelphia Eagles. "Everybody was raving about him early in camp, and he said, 'We did the same things at the University of Pittsburgh. I'm prepared for this.'

"I loved reading that."

You think Wannstedt might mention that to the recruits he's entertaining tonight at the Pitt-West Virginia basketball game at the Petersen Events Center?

Yes, Wannstedt is back from the beach after a few days of R & R.

He said there's no place he would rather be.


What snow?

Panther pride

Pitt ranks seventh on the list of schools that have produced the most Pro Football Hall of Famers:

School HOFs

Southern California 11

Notre Dame 10

Michigan 8

Alabama 7

Ohio State 7

Syracuse 7

Illinois 6

Minnesota 6

Oregon 6

Pitt 6

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . First Published February 12, 2010 5:30 AM


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