Narduzzi makes the most of short timeframe
If the recruiting cycle is a marathon, then the final contact period from Jan. 15 until the weekend before Signing Day is a sprint through the last 400 meters.
Pat Narduzzi had a little less than three weeks to get ready for that sprint after being hired as Pitt's head coach, and the results were laid bare for the world to officially see Wednesday when he introduced 15 new Panthers.
"After a long - but short - recruiting season, we feel really confident what we've done as a staff," Narduzzi said Wednesday. "All the recruiting efforts have gone into a really great class."
That class includes 13 high school prospects, one junior college recruit and a transfer from Tennessee. According to Narduzzi, that group won two WPIAL championships, two state championships in New Jersey, eight all-state selections and five first-team all-state selections. Narduzzi also said that 11 of the 15 players have been captains in their football careers, a bio note that caught the Pitt head coach's eye.
"That's impressive. I don't know if any class has that many captains. Captains don't just go out to the best players on the team - which I think we've got some of those - but also to leaders. To win championships, you have to have winners on your team. So I'm happy about that."
Winners are good, but talent is pretty important, too. And it's even better to add talent at positions of need. To that end, Pitt addressed quarterback, where the Panthers currently have two scholarship players, with a pair of additions - Pine-Richland's Ben DiNucci and Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman - and also added six players to the back seven on defense (two linebackers and four defensive backs), including the No. 1 prospect in the state, Central Valley cornerback Jordan Whitehead.
The biggest hole, though, is up front on defense. In early November, Pitt had two defensive tackle commitments, but both decommitted (Kraig Howe flipped to Wisconsin and DaVon Hamilton signed with Ohio State after a brief sojourn as a Kentucky commit). Narduzzi and his staff targeted a couple defensive tackles, but they ultimately pulled one offer and weren't able to secure a visit from another prospect.
So the class that Pitt signed on Wednesday features just one defensive lineman: JUCO end Allen Edwards. Given the Panthers' struggles getting to the quarterback last season, more help was probably needed along the defensive line, but Narduzzi wanted to make sure the recruits he signed were prospects he believed could actually help the Panthers.
In other words, Narduzzi didn't want to reach for defensive linemen just because the roster is thin.
"It wasn't a matter of saying, 'We need five defensive linemen; we've gotta get them,'" he said. "I think when you do that, you put not only the coaching staff in a bind for the next four years - because it's not one year; it's a four-year commitment for a football coach - but you put that kid in a bind and you end up having someone on your team that's maybe not good enough, maybe you out-recruit him the next year and you have somebody that's really not as happy as you want them to be."
Narduzzi said that theory applied to the class as a whole, not just on the defensive line.
"We were going to get the right guys," he said. "It was not about quantity; it was about quality. We were getting the best available and we were not just going to take a guy just to take a guy because we have a position of need, because you have to live with that guy for four or five years, not just one year.
"That's from experience. I've done that in the past and you look back and go, 'If I have an opportunity to do that again, I'm not doing it.'"
As a result, Narduzzi said he probably came out of Signing Day with a few scholarships in his pocket.
"We could have added a few more prospects into this class, but if there's doubt in our coaches' minds and my mind, we were better to play it safe right now and save one, so we were happy to do that."
Of course, Pitt expected to sign at least one more defensive lineman, but end prospect Shawn Curtis flipped his commitment from Pitt to Ole Miss on Signing Day. Narduzzi wouldn't speak about specific recruits that signed with other schools, but he did address the topic of decommitments on Wednesday.
"That's the business. It's something you live with. We got the guys that want to be here, and that's the most important thing: we're coaching guys that want to be here."
And Narduzzi and his staff assembled that group in a relatively short amount of time. He joked on Wednesday that the first time on campus for some of his assistants was the Jan. 16-18 official visit weekend. But despite the short timeframe and quick turnaround, Narduzzi said several recruits remarked that the staff seemed to have "been here for two or three years already, not 72 hours."
To take that turnaround and manufacture a solid class, Narduzzi and his staff had to win the trust of the recruits, both inherited commits and new prospects. That they were able to do so is a testament to the staff's recruiting ability, not to mention some crucial assistance from in-house assistants Bob Junko and Dann Kabala.
But to hear Narduzzi tell it, the biggest storyline of the 2015 recruiting class is with the players.
"The most impressive thing about this class is character. Major character. When you talk to these kids, you've got a bunch of leaders. The character involved in this class is incredible. That is the most impressive thing.
"You can watch guys catch and run and make tackles, but we've got a group of character individuals that will lead this football team into the future and guys that you really want to be in a foxhole with, you might say."
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