The BCS Triangle: Wannstedt holding his own in recruiting
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Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
Perry's Jared Williams is one of three players ranked among the top 25 in Pennsylvania who has committed to Pitt. Keystone Oaks offensive guard Chris Jacobson, one of the state's top-rated linemen, and the state's top-rated quarterback Pat Bostick of Manheim also have commited to play for the Panthers.
When second-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt hit the road to recruit last May, he received the kind of royal treatment usually reserved for dignitaries at almost every stop along the way.
But he had yet to coach a game, so his success and his reception was largely because of his strength as a recruiter and his ability to sell his vision of making the Panthers national title contenders once again.
The result was Pitt's best recruiting class in at least two decades. As a bonus, Wannstedt renewed many ties between the university and the community and established the Panthers as a force not only in Western Pennsylvania, but also in the eastern and central parts of the state as well.
Wannstedt has been on the road again this May, and this time the situation is much different.
The Panthers are coming off a losing season, and Wannstedt must deal with the fact that three of the four BCS winners -- Penn State, West Virginia and Ohio State -- are within three hours of Pitt's campus.
Conventional wisdom would hold that Wannstedt has little chance of duplicating last year's success. But Wannstedt, based on his experiences thus far, disagrees. He said if anything his chances for success are even better this year than they were last year for several reasons. The biggest one being that he has a much better understanding of what it is he is trying to sell.
Pitt's losing record has not been an issue, he said, because people understand the roster has some holes that need to be filled, which the team's struggles clearly highlight.
"Last year, we were selling dreams and frankly didn't fully know what we were dealing with because we were new," Wannstedt said. "And people also know now that we really do mean business. They see we are genuine and they respect our work ethic. They see we really have made a commitment, especially in Pennsylvania, and they are more excited about what we're doing now then they were last year because it is real.
"I can say this with all honesty -- the reception for us has been even better this year than it was last. We're going to get six or seven more commitments heading into the fall and we'll be off and running again."
While Wannstedts' track record of success as a recruiter is hard to argue with, there are a few signs that his second time around won't be as easy.
Wannstedt and the Panthers did well in recruiting in Pennsylvania last season and got just about every top athlete they wanted, particularly from the western part of the state.
But within the past two weeks, two top players from Western Pennsylvania -- Hampton's Steve Paskorz (Notre Dame) and Seneca Valley's Donny Barclay (West Virginia) -- chose to go elsewhere, and tackle Josh Marks, who is from Southern Columbia in Central Pennsylvania, picked Penn State over Pitt.
There are a number of other top players from the area mulling offers from Pitt, but the Panthers will have to battle to get any one of them.
Wannstedt said recruiting battles are nothing new, it's all part of the process. Plus, the Panthers have a limited number of scholarships to give, so they must be a little more selective about who they take because of the holes they have to fill.
"Ultimately, our record or our rivals' records is not an issue because our program is still being established," Wannstedt said. "We are going to battle Penn State, we are going to battle Ohio State, Notre Dame, West Virginia -- we are going to battle those schools for recruits no matter what. That's not going to change.
"We are going to have another excellent recruiting class, I'm not even concerned about it. We are off to a good start and people need to realize we're not going to get every kid."
To Wannstedt's credit, the three commitments he has picked up have been from players ranked among the top 25 in the state -- Keystone Oaks offensive guard Chris Jacobson, who is one of the state's top-rated linemen, the state's top-rated quarterback in Manheim's Pat Bostick and Perry defensive back Jared Williams.
Wannstedt also is being very proactive to maintain the Panthers' recruiting momentum and the enthusiasm surrounding the program, which remains very high. That's a big reason he spent the spring evaluation period -- coaches get four weeks in the spring to evaluate prospects -- on the road with his assistant coaches.
Most head coaches, especially those at established programs, stay home in the spring, saving their road trips until later in the year when they are able to make school and home visits with prospects.
Wannstedt, however, believes the work he does on the road in the spring is building a foundation for another successful signing day for the Panthers.
"I need to be out on the road right now to help get things established," he said. "A few years down the road, once we get things up and running like we want it to be, like we know it will be, maybe I sit back a bit and do it the way other head coaches do it.
"But I just don't think it would be fair for me to push my assistants out the door and make them do the hard work of rebuilding things. I want to be there to help. I also never get tired of selling people on our great city and our great university.
"I am far more excited about our future now than I ever was at any point last year."
First Published May 30, 2006 12:00 am