Narduzzi on the second Signing Day, new players, new coaches and more
Pat Narduzzi held his February Signing Day press conference Wednesday, and here's the full rundown of what he said.
Narduzzi: Thanks for coming on this beautiful old day, signing day. It's really become, you know, a two day show for you guys, I think, and it is interesting that it has become a two day deal. We got the majority of our guys, most importantly, signed back in December.
And then, you know, you got this next day, today, this morning, to sign a few others and there still may be some more to sign as we go through here the next couple of weeks, maybe the next month, maybe the next month and a half, maybe the next four months, Jerry, so don't ask.
But we're happy to announce two more signings today. I think you guys already got their names, but the only two that we expected today I might add as well.
The first one Nolan Ulizio. Nolan is a 6-foot, 5-inch, 305-pound athlete, a transfer from the University of Michigan, was there with Coach Harbaugh, and I know he did not want him to leave, so that is always a good thing when someone is trying to get you to stay. He felt like it was best for him to go play his last year of eligibility somewhere else, get an opportunity to develop under Coach Borbely, so we are excited to have him.
He played for Larry Cox at Dakota West High School. I have known Larry for a long, long time. The day it went on the is it called the portal? The day it went on the portal, me and Coach Borbely was in touch with Coach Cox and he couldn't speak more highly of him.
He was our number-one offensive tackle get and not only are we excited to have him, we are lucky to have him. I say lucky because he turned down a bunch of people. He had a bunch of visitors the first week. The second week, after he visited us, he had canceled, someone was supposed to come in on Monday to see him from down south and turned him down, said don't come see me, I'm done, had to make four or five calls that morning just to cancel things up and said, I'm here.
And when I say lucky, I say we are lucky because he is from Center Township Pennsylvania. His whole family grew up in this area. So he's from a family of long time Pitt people. And so we are lucky, we are really lucky to have him. You know, I think obviously the city of Pittsburgh the family loves on the visit. Mom, dad, grandfather's there, sister, Rudy's there. The entire family's excited for him to be visiting the city of Pittsburgh and had an outstanding weekend, so we are excited to have Nolan on this football team. He will be here for summer school one.
And the next guy is SirVocea Dennis. 6-foot, 1-inch, 210-pound linebacker. Another interesting story about him, we weren't looking for him. I'm out junior recruiting, which the month of January ends up being a lot of that. So I'm in New Jersey recruiting and we sit in the Peddie School with their athletic director and the head football coach is in some administrative meetings and Peddie School's a prestigious academic institution as well as a football school and Coach Malleo there was in meetings. We were talking to the AD about the underclass and he said one of our best players is still this linebacker that hasn't signed anywhere.
I said, 'A linebacker? We could use a linebacker.' So we started talking about SirVocea and I said let me see his highlight tape. I googled him. I'm watching him on my phone, watching him play, he is pretty good. And I hear the story really of why he is still out there which I don't know if anybody knows the story. I think he is a diamond in the rough athlete, but he was a quarterback in high school as well as a defensive back, played quarterback, got into a senior year, tore his Achilles tendon, was out so missed his entire senior so he did a PG year so he is a year older coming from the Peddie School and played at CBA High School.
If he plays a senior year, we might not touch him at CBA High School. He goes on to PG year and we turn over a few stones when you walk into high school to find this guy and ten minutes after we offer he had a couple more offers come trickling in, I won't say where or who, but he had a couple more offers come in afterwards. I warned him that was going to happen. This guy is available because of injuries, and everybody's done so early. We offer guys really after their junior year and this a kid that didn't get to play a senior in high school. So we are excited to have SirVocea - goes back the name of Voss - we are excited to have him in the class as well. So, that is really our signing class.
Is it harder to find diamonds in the rough nowadays than it was ten or 15 years ago?
Narduzzi: Absolutely. It really is, and again we fell into this one. It is not like we were hunting, you ask questions and the AD was adamant about this guy, you know, coach he is going to play in the NFL, he might be one of the best players we have at the Peddie School. So you go in and listen and you try to evaluate for yourself who he is and great parents, you know, as well. I talked about Nolan's parents being from the area - both his parents spent 12 years in the military, he is a disciplined kid, very smart, and fits right in with that linebacking crew. It is harder nowadays with social media, but the ones you can find are these ones that get injured - there should be an injury portal and it would be a little bit - maybe Jerry, you can make that up an injury portal where guys that are injured, they can put their name in and get looked at.
Do you like it better this way than it was?
Narduzzi: It is fun to do it the old way. "I'm blessed to have my 38th offer" and everybody knows and as soon as you get your first offer, right after that you get 20 more - and it is amazing how many schools I walk into, even in the senior years, like, 'How many you got? 25 offers? How many people have you seen come in and walked through your school?" "Coach, half of them." So it's a phone love relationship and that's the difference.
When was the last time you remember recruiting a kid that way, the old school way, I will grab him from a classroom?
Narduzzi: Darqueze Dennard was one of those guys. He was a two-star guy and in far south cotton fields, he was a guy that we saw off another guy's tape and said we would like that guy, let's go get him. Maybe that might be the last one that you really didn't know much about and fell into late. Maybe that is a good sign.
You guys have limited numbers in this recruiting class and signed most in December; that's why you have signed a couple of guys. Do you think other years will be different? You will end up having more excitement in February or do you think it is trending towards...
Narduzzi: 92 percent of kids signed in December a year ago, I don't know what the number was, maybe you guys can tell me. I think it's going to be less and less that will wait till February. Some coaching changes that happened in December maybe affect some of the numbers about where I'm going to go. I think it's going to be 90 plus which is we'd like to have our work done because when we go out in January, it's a head start to get the head football coach into some high schools to see high school coaches in that area which we normally you don't normally get the chance to do that. The spring evaluation period we don't get to see high school coaches so it was great to get and see a lot of coaches.
Where will Ulizio play?
Narduzzi: He will start off at right tackle, most likely. That is the intention.
You made a lot of changes to recruiting through the whole process because of the changes to the NCAA rules. How would you evaluate how all that worked out for you with having the official visits in June and now that you can look back?
Narduzzil We talked about this in December. It was outstanding. Our plan as far as what we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it was well thought out. I thought it was executed properly. That June official visit, which we will make in another big one, we should have a parade that weekend in Pittsburgh, but I think it planned out perfectly. That is what we would like to do. Again, there is no distractions at that time of year, just like there is no distractions in December, but to bring kids on campus during the season there's distractions and I very much discourage our student athletes to visit during the games. Come unofficially, but don't come officially, because I won't spend any time with you.
Have you been to The Peddie School before?
You recruited kids there?
Narduzzi: I don't go back and look at the numbers of what they have had. They have had players out of there, it is good football. New Jersey is good football, like the State of Pennsylvania, and the Peddie School. I couldn't tell you who and what years but they've got at least four PG kids a year, so they are getting kids that kind of maybe fell under the cracks, or didn't get what they wanted, development wise or ability wise.
We talked a few weeks ago and you were asked about the schedule and you said, "I'm trying to find the next guy." With Nolan starting off at right tackle, does that mean you feel pretty good about someone at left?
Narduzzi: We've got - I have been impressed with all our young guys, we've got some big athletes, Gabe Hoy, I'm not going to say there is one guy there, JD Drake, Carter Warren, they will be all fighting this spring to see who the top two guys are at left and right. So I think there's some great competition of some guys that can play and they are going to have an entire winter conditioning fourth quarter starting here in another week. It started yesterday, but some smaller fourth quarters, so those are just four names and I probably missed somebody and they are probably mad at me and I'll hear about it later on because of you.
Kenny came in early, and Davis came in early; is that going to happen more for guys going forward, especially at that position?
Narduzzi: I think it is. There's some great things about it. I think it's all depends on the individual. I don't want to say it discourages it, but I don't press, it is why we only have two. I can press guys harder, we need you hear. I mentioned in December, I think that Jared Wayne could have academically been here at midyear but decided to stay back and when he committed, I'm coming midyear and halfway through his season he said I'm going to stay down here in south Florida, he liked that compared to the Canadian weather.
There's some place that have 10 or 12 midyear guys, so the midyear thing is something, it's caught fire, I don't necessarily think it is great for kids and I think it depends on who he is and the two we have right now, Liam and Davis have done a nice job adjusting, they are roommates and they haven't missed a beat here, and it will be outstanding for them not only academically but athletically.
You are still a couple of months away from really seeing the team environment. The last guy you brought in early as a quarterback was playing by the end of that season. Is that something that comes up? Are you taking it one step at a time?
Narduzzi: One step at a time. He is learning where he eats breakfast in the morning. He doesn't know where the brown sugar is for the oatmeal is, he is trying to figure that out. It's a work in progress, and Coach Whipple will work with him and he will have an opportunity to get more developed than he would if he didn't come in. We want to get as many quarterbacks as ready as we possibly can.
To have that Coastal Division championship this year did it make things easier, just to have that to show these kids?
Narduzzi: I don't think there is any question about it. When you play in a Championship game, you can throw - if you told me you can win seven and play for the ACC Championship or play ten but not have an opportunity to pick in that game, I'm picking the seven. I want to play in the Championship game.
When you walk into high school, the first thing the coaches are talking about is, "Coach, great year, that was awesome, I watched"... Again, sometimes the wins and losses don't matter, it's the Championship that matters.
And we took the first step of winning a Championship and that's getting to the Championship game and the next step is to go there and win the thing and our kids have a lot of confidence in maybe taking that step, that next step and knowing what it takes to get there.
Why is Mark Whipple the guy to run your offense?
Narduzzi: We will give you an opportunity to meet with two of our assistant coaches and the question is Mark Whipple, so the first guy I talked about is Mark Whipple officially - I know I was in the ice house down in Station Square or Market Square to talk about him a little bit already - but why is Mark Whipple the guy to run our offense? Number one, I have known Mark for a long time. I have never worked with him, but I have had the utmost respect for who he is, how he did his business, the relationships he had with his players. When you ever read articles and you played against him for years, I was at Rhode Island when he was a head coach at Brown and also at the University of Massachusetts, his first go-round and won a national championship. The thing that impressed me what was he did to a quarterback. I didn't know how, I just remember back in the days, you know, of saying that guy turns quarterbacks to gold. I don't know what he does. They have a new quarterback, this guy's throwing the ball lights out.
It's his style. I have listened to him coach the last few weeks whenever we have opportunities here on the weekends, after recruiting weekends talking ball. He's a ball coach. He's a football coach. And I think he brings a passing game that we needed. He will be able to blend his run game in with our current run game, the stuff that we do want to keep as we go through our cut-ups and that is why he's the best guy for the job to continue to develop our quarterback room and to give our offense some confidence in what they are doing in the passing game and I have already seen, really without watching the kids run around on the field, a change in how we do it and what it is possibly going to look like. He's had success everywhere he's been throwing the ball.
My next guy is Chris Beatty, our new receiver coach who came from Maryland. He's been on the hamster wheel as far as some coaching changes and not to his desire. He's been forced sometimes to make some moves, but a guy that is highly regarded as a great recruiter. But the things besides recruiting and what he's done there, you know, the type of person he is, because again it comes down to the people you bring in here and Mark Whipple is great people, Chris Beatty, great people. And Coach Whipple mentioned the other day, we are trying to hire some GAs and some quality control coaches as well and he made the statement it was good to hear come out of his mouth - "I need good people." Good people that will listen to what you want, take directions and execute the plan.
And Coach Beatty and Mark Whipple are great people as well as great recruiters and again Chris Beatty will bring a new freshness to that receiver room and again be able to blend that passing game in first day with the new offense coordinator.
I know you've had coaches that have helped before, but does it help when you have a guy that has ties to the NFL and ties next door?
Narduzzi: It does, if it's the right fit, and he's the right fit, and again, worked in Pittsburgh, worked in Philly, worked with the Browns, but we interviewed an O-line coach a year ago that coached in the NFL for a long time, and it was like, no way. So it depends on - this guy has coached at the next level, he's coached great players from the receivers to the quarterbacks and a tailback position through the years that he's developed the entire passing game, the entire football team, so it helps when he's a college guy that's also coached in the NFL, as opposed to a pure NFL guy trying to make a transition to college football. But it certainly does help.
Two years ago Brandon Hodges comes in late in the summer, last year you guys got Will Gragg. What are the chances of you going that route again, bringing in one of those grad transfers sort of later in the calendar?
Narduzzi: There's a chance. We're looking for the best available.
Any specific spots?
Narduzzi No. Give me a good player, we're going to go get him.
A couple years ago, this day, you said, "We want to recruit in our backyard first." You ended up with just two players in western Pennsylvania, nobody from Ohio. Is that just the way this class worked out or is that some kind of change in focus?
Narduzzi: No, it's just the way it works out. We recruit the heck out of it. As a matter of fact, I think there's more players in western Pennsylvania than there was a year ago, I believe. There's more in Ohio. When I get to go out and do some junior recruiting, whether it's New Jersey, east and west of us and Ohio and obviously the state of Pennsylvania, you know, I've been really in the entire state here looking at some of the top guys. So it's a better year. Every year is different and we don't have as many scholarships next year, either - still a smaller year scholarship-wise, maybe less next year than this year, I think. At least initially.
So it's just the way the cookie comes down to it. But we're looking for the best football players, and if it's in our backyard, that's great. We're going to recruit the best, and sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't get them, sometimes you don't want them. That's how it goes sometimes. Just based on need and what fits your needs.
Does it concern you that you only have two western Pennsylvania guys this year?
Narduzzi No, we're looking for football players and we're trying to win a championship. In the end, if we're in the ACC Championship game and you're looking down - if you're looking for the initials at the end of the city they're in, is it PA, is it FL, is it MA - it doesn't matter where they're from, it matters what they do on the field because that's what you'll be asking about. I know that. You ain't going to be asking like, "Hey, he made a play today, but he's from Florida. How come we couldn't get that guy in New Jersey."
I don't care where they're from. We're going to recruit the heck out of our backyard. We spend a ton of time in the schools from Ohio to New Jersey, and we're going to we'll get the ones that want to come. I want guys that love Pittsburgh, okay, and that's what it comes down to. You either love Pittsburgh and you want to stay here and play for your city, or you don't, and if you don't, I'm good. We wouldn't win with you anyway. It's beautiful.
Chris Beatty is a guy that has a lot of experience in eastern Maryland, you already have Andre Powell was that was wanting somebody else with ties in that region specifically what you were looking for when you hired him, or was it a bonus?
Narduzzi It's a bonus I would say, although if you looked in the DMV area, it might be as loaded as it's ever been. That might be one of the like the loaded really I'm not going to bring a receiver coach in there because, oh, he recruits this area. That's always the last question - "Hey, where do you like to recruit, where have you recruited?"
But we tried to hire Chris at Michigan State years ago when I was there, and we couldn't get him, okay, so I've known that name. Didn't necessarily know him as a person, but everything you hear about him is just top-notch. He actually grew up across the street from Mark Dantonio's brother. How about that one? Another one there for you, another tidbit for you.
Does he have any Percy Harvin stories?
Narduzzi: He will. I guarantee you he'll have Percy Harvin stories.