One (and everyone has their personal favorite) of the reasons for angst over Head Coach Paul Chryst’s recruiting strategy has been the slow start to recruiting. Early verbals were few and far between. While other schools were pulling those early commits, Pitt was waiting. Appearing to get left in the dust.
Not this year. It’s not yet March, but Pitt has 3 verbals for the 2015 class. Offensive lineman Alex Paulina kicked things off in January. They added a TE at the end of January and now a linebacker.
The theme with them all is that they are Western Pennsylvania recruits. Three of the top-ten recruits in Westertn PA based on one ranking. If you care to make overarching declarations then it could be seen that the coaching stability and Coach Chryst’s approach to recruiting is starting to bear earlier fruit. At least locally as the players and coaches in the area have come to know and be familiar with him.
We know Chryst isn’t going to come out and try and glitz, glam and dazzle recruits. He’s not going to push. He is going to be himself and let the players and their families make the decision. At this point, though, he has been establishing real relations with the local coaches and players that will be seniors this fall. Now they are much more comfortable with what he is doing and there seems to be a lot more desire to play for him and Pitt.
At least at a local level.
The newest verbal is Kevin Givens out of Altoona.
Altoona coach John Franco said Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan and Michigan State also have shown interest, but he added the Nittany Lions didn’t want to offer a scholarship until Givens met coach James Franklin. His scheduled visit to Penn State was postponed last weekend by inclement weather.
Givens, rated a three-star prospect by Rivals.com, had offers from Pitt, Boston College, Temple and UMass.
“The (Pitt) coaching staff has been great to him,” Franco said. “He related to them very well.”
Franco labeled Givens, 16, as a “project.”
“He doesn’t get it yet, but when he gets it, look out,” he said. “He has a great frame (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) and can easily put on 30 pounds. He is a great worker in the weight room.”
Givens can play defensive end or outside linebacker, Franco said.
Givens envisions himself at outside linebacker in Pitt’s defense.
“They use their linebackers rushing from the outside,” Givens said, “and that’s where I feel I play best. They showed me schemes and film, and I felt I’d fit in perfectly.”
“I just need to learn technique to become a complete overall player,” Givens said. “I feel all of my coaches, recent and past, have helped develop me into the player I am.
“They [the Pitt coaches] told me just to keep on working hard. They can help get me where I want to go. The sky’s the limit for me.”
The Panther coaches aren’t the only ones that feel that way. Western Pennsylvania talent evaluator and seven-on-seven travel team organizer Ayo Fapohunda felt Givens was being very under-recruited and mentioned him in the same breath with former Penn State star LaVar Arrington.
“After watching his highlight tape from his junior year, not only are we ready to crown him top LB in the state, but also believe he may be one of the most intriguing prospects in the country,” Fapohunda wrote in his Preps.com blog a month ago. “With offers only from Pitt and Temple, don’t be surprised to start seeing Givens receiving some major D1 attention from the likes of Ohio State, Alabama, and of course nearby Penn State once staffs refocus on class of 2015. With the size, speed, and strength that all coaches are looking for, Givens has to be one of the better looking linebacker prospects we’ve seen in this area in years.”
At this point Givens is a consensus 3-star recruit. If he is as promising as indicated, there will be other schools coming at him. It is nice, though, for this staff to land a very promising player on the defensive side so early.
The other early verbal was tight end Nick Bowers from Kittanning.
He was selected as the Leader Times Player of the Year in 2013, shortly after receiving his first college scholarship offer from Pitt in December when he visited during one of the Panthers’ bowl game practices.
Kittanning coach Frank Fabian said he believes Bowers will remain committed to Pitt throughout his senior season.
“He’s a quiet kid. He’s never going to be the type to go on TV with a bunch of hats in front of him when he makes his decision,” Fabian said. “I think it’s important for him to stay close to home and play in front (of his family). Plus, the way coach (Paul) Chryst uses his tight ends (fits Bowers). You put all those pieces together and it seems like a no-brainer to him.”
Fabian said Bowers played last season at 220 pounds and added 15 during off-season workouts.
“He’s looking like a different kid. He’s always worked hard, but this is the first year he’s really hit the weight room,” Fabian said.
During the past season, Bowers was named Class AA Allegheny Conference offensive player of the year and first-team all-conference as a wide receiver and inside linebacker. Kittanning (9-1) won its first conference championship since 1976.
In the signing day presser, Coach Chryst conceded that the QB situation was a “little light” in terms of depth. At the same time he denied that there was any goal of pursuing someone from the JUCO ranks or pursue a graduate transfer.
That seemed a bit on the open-ended side. Especially since the question was centered around bringing someone in by spring practices. No plan in place, but if it so happened that a graduate transfer QB wanted to look, well there’s no way he would be at Pitt in the spring practices.