National signing day 2016: Full year to scout benefits Narduzzi, Pitt
February 2, 2016 5:10 PM
Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi talks to a recruit on the phone Wednesday morning at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.
Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi talks on the phone Wednesday morning at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi enters National Signing Day with the No. 29 recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A year ago, Pat Narduzzi had just over a month to hold on to what was left of Pitt’s 2015 recruiting class.
Narduzzi will officially sign his first full recruiting class with the Panthers Wednesday, and the benefit of having a full year to scout and recruit this group is pretty immediately evident.
Narduzzi discusses recruiting class
Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi discusses his recruiting class. (Video by Matt Freed; 2/3/2016)
Pitt heads into signing day with 22 players verbally committed to sign their national letters of intent, and could gain two more during the day. The Panthers’ class is ranked No. 29 in Division I-A according to Rivals, a significant bump up from where it finished last year at No. 65.
“For where Narduzzi wants to get Pitt, I think they took a step forward in this class, landing length and also adding guys at key positions,” said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247 Sports.
At the top of the class is Central Catholic defensive back Damar Hamlin, who announced his pledge to Pitt Monday on KDKA-TV. Hamlin is a consensus four-star prospect across all the major recruiting sites, and is generally considered to be the top defensive prospect in the state.
Hamlin could end up playing safety or cornerback at Pitt, and will likely challenge for playing time and a starting role as soon as he steps on campus this summer.
Hamlin chose Pitt over local rival Penn State and perennial championship contender Ohio State to stay at home.
“It just shows that Pat Narduzzi can win big recruiting battles,” Wiltfong said.
“[Hamlin is] a good player, and you definitely want guys like that in your program, but also just from a statement standpoint, the guys from Pittsburgh … are invested in getting Pitt to a championship-level football team.”
What’s different about Narduzzi’s first class with the Panthers, Wiltfong said, has been the coach’s ability to reach outside of Western Pennsylvania to pluck high-end talent.
Pitt has landed one of the top five players in the state each of the past five seasons. This year, though, the Panthers also landed George Hill, a four-star athlete from Ohio; Amir Watts, a four-star defensive tackle from Chicago; and Thomas MacVittie, a quarterback who was pursued by LSU.
“Those are guys that Pitt wasn’t getting,” Wiltfong said. “Pitt can win a big local recruiting battle — I don’t want to take that for granted. You’ve got to do it, and Narduzzi was able to continue doing it — but it’s been even more impressive going for guys that don’t live in Pittsburgh and are key targets.”
Of course, this class also has its share of Western Pennsylvania talent, including two of Hamlin’s Central Catholic teammates, defensive lineman Rashad Wheeler and defensive back Bricen Garner, both of whom will sign with Hamlin in a ceremony at their school Wednesday morning.
“You know we’ve already got good chemistry,” Garner said. “Everything’s going to be cool.”
As far as the out-of-town prospects, Wiltfong pointed to MacVittie, who he said has “a chance to be an absolute difference-maker on the next level,” and linebacker Chase Pine, who turned down a late push from Virginia Tech to stick with Pitt.
“We love Chase Pine,” Wiltfong said. “He looks like the next great Pitt linebacker.”
Part of that can be attributed to Narduzzi’s eye for talent on the recruiting trail, a reputation he established as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State. Multiple times during his eight years there, he turned unheralded defensive recruits into NFL prospects.
“Evaluating guys, making sure you see them in person, making sure you talk to teachers, administrators and coaches at the high school about the kid, they’re taking extra steps on guys like that to make sure they’re the right kind of guy for them,” Wiltfong said.
Pitt could add as many as three more to this class on signing day, as defensive tackle Keyshon Camp (Lakeland, Fla.) and defensive end Rashad Weaver (Cooper City, Fla.) will announce their college decisions, with the Panthers in the mix.
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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