Pitt signs new football class of 22 players

It was hard for Pitt coach Paul Chryst to contain his excitement Wednesday at his national signing day news conference.

So much so that he even noticed himself.

"I've said 'excited' a lot," he joked about halfway through. "But I am."

The cause of Chryst's excitement was the 22 high school seniors who officially signed national letters of intent Wednesday to play for Pitt, joining one early enrollee to make up Chryst's 23-man 2014 recruiting class.

"Obviously, there's a lot of work that goes into this," Chryst said. "A lot of these guys you start to build relationships and it's 2, 21/2 years. For the day to come when they're joining our team, that part's exciting."

The class is highlighted by four players who are rated as four-star talents by Rivals.com: Wide receiver Adonis Jennings, running back Chris James and offensive linemen Mike Grimm and Alex Bookser.

Chryst said Jennings has a chance to make an impact "sooner rather than later." Pitt has a vacancy at one of the starting receiver spots due to the graduation of Devin Street.

The offensive line class, highlighted by Grimm and Bookser, illustrates Chryst's desire to increase numbers and size there. The Panthers signed five offensive linemen a year ago and three more this year.

"I think just now we're starting to get our [offensive] line numbers kind of right," Chryst said.

Grimm and Bookser also were important WPIAL recruiting wins for Chryst. While the Panthers missed on some local prospects (notably Gateway's Montae Nicholson and Aliquippa's Dravon Henry), Chryst said keeping local kids at Pitt remains an important part of his overall recruiting plan.

"Absolutely, we want to get the kids from Western Pennsylvania," Chryst said. "I think that also, though, we want the guys that are a great fit for us and they think Pitt's a great fit.

"I think there is something special about local kids playing at their local university."

Seven WPIAL prospects signed with Pitt: Grimm, Bookser, Fox Chapel linebacker Quintin Wirginis, Shady Side Academy running back Dennis Briggs, North Allegheny wide receiver Elijah Zeise, Elizabeth Forward wide receiver JaQuan Davidson, and Upper St. Clair defensive end Rori Blair, the lone early enrollee in the group.

While Chryst was enthusiastic about the players he added, the group was one member smaller than it was expected to be 24 hours earlier. Florida quarterback Wade Freebeck, committed to Pitt since June, reneged on his pledge just hours before signing day and signed instead with Vanderbilt. The Commodores had been recruiting him hard since James Franklin left for Penn State and took quarterback recruit Trace McSorley with him.

Quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger deflected a question when asked what it was like to lose a prospect that was seemingly a sure-thing to sign.

"I think the biggest thing is I'm just excited with the guys you do have, and that's what you fall back on," Bollinger said.

Freebeck's defection meant that Adam Bertke of Maria Stein, Ohio, was the only quarterback to sign with Pitt. The Panthers will head into spring camp with just two quarterbacks -- rising redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik and rising senior Trey Anderson. Bertke will join the team in the summer.

Despite the thin numbers, Chryst said the Panthers had no plans to add another quarterback by transfer or other means before the season.


NOTE -- Pitt wide receivers coach Bobby Engram is considered to be a strong candidate for the same job with the Baltimore Ravens, according to a report from coachingsearch.com. Chryst addressed the report, but did not say anything definitive on Engram's status. "I don't know exactly on all that, really," Chryst said. "I'm not surprised. I think we've got some really good coaches on this staff."

Pitt’s 2014 recruiting class:

Adam Bertke Maria Stein, Ohio (QB, 6-6, 210)

Qadree Ollison, Niagara Falls, N.Y. (RB, 6-2, 215)

Dennis Briggs, Shady Side Academy (RB, 5-10, 195)

Chris James, Chicago, Ill. (RB, 5-11, 210)

Adonis Jennings, Clementon, N.J. (WR, 6-3, 195)

Elijah Zeise, North Allegheny (WR, 6-2, 195)

Brian O'Neill, Wilmington, Del. (TE, 6-6, 245)

Alex Bookser, Mt. Lebanon (OL, 6-6, 295)

Mike Grimm, Bethel Park (OL, 6-6, 325)

Connor Hayes, Traverse City, Mich. (OL, 6-4, 270)

Rori Blair, Upper St. Clair (DL, 6-4, 230)

Hez Trahan, Philadelphia (DL, 6-4, 250)

Shane Roy, Cincinnati (DL, 6-4, 245)

Connor Dintino, Mashpee, Mass. (DL, 6-3, 295)

Mike Herndon, Staunton, Va. (DL, 6-4, 320)

Jamal Davis II, Canton, Ohio (LB, 6-2, 200)

James Folston Jr., Rockledge, Fla. (LB, 6-3, 200)

Quintin Wirginis, Fox Chapel (LB, 6-2, 220)

Avonte Maddox, Detroit (DB, 5-9, 165)

Phillipie Motley, Columbus, Ohio (DB, 5-10, 170)

Patrick Amara, Lansdowne, Pa. (DB, 6-2, 190)

Jalen Williams, Newburgh, N.Y. (DB, 6-2, 180)

Jaquaun Davidson, Elizabeth Forward (ATH, 6-2, 170)

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG First Published February 5, 2014 11:20 AM

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