Local scene is priority for Pitt

| Friday, May 20, 2011

Pitt football coach Todd Graham reluctantly accepted the loss of reserves Kolby Gray and Dan Schneider, who are leaving the program. And he is pleased that former WPIAL stars Cullen Christian and Brendon Felder are coming home to join the Panthers.

But those four players probably won't make or break Graham's tenure at Pitt. What really matters are the prospects who live within a short car trip of the Cathedral of Learning.

"We want to get the best and the brightest from Western Pennsylvania to stay right here so they won't have to transfer back," he said. "The last time that happened was 1976."

That reference was to Pitt's successful recruitment of Hopewell's Tony Dorsett, leading to the Panthers' most recent national championship.

Graham, who discussed the comings and goings within his program Thursday on his way to speak to a large crowd of boosters in Johnstown, said he assigned five of his nine assistants to recruit the local region and the rest of Pennsylvania. Other prime areas are Ohio, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, joining what he calls "spot recruiting" of Florida, Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina.

Pitt has no commitments for the Class of 2012. He said his targets have opportunities with some of the top programs in the nation, but he doesn't want to pressure them into decisions.

"You reap what you sow in that regard," he said. "We will be well on our way to a tremendous class about (the start of) football season."

Wide receivers Felder and Josh Brinson, a junior-college transfer, could help this season. Felder, a Gateway graduate, transferred from North Carolina to help care for ailing grandparents and has petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility. Brinson, who played at El Camino (Calif.) College, will improve depth; Pitt has seven players on scholarship at the position.

"We feel Josh is a big-time difference maker," Graham said.

Christian, a former Penn Hills cornerback, transferred from Michigan with teammate Ray Vinopal, a starting safety last season. They won't be eligible until 2012.

Gray, who would have been a redshirt sophomore, is leaving Pitt to return to Houston, where he threw for nearly 5,000 yards at Cypress Falls High School. He earned a letter at safety in 2010 but opened spring drills this year at quarterback. Later, he moved back to safety, where he was behind starters Jason Hendricks and Jarred Holley. Gray hopes to build a country-western music career, but Graham said he didn't know where he would attend school.

Schneider, a redshirt freshman from Avon Lake, Ohio, separated his shoulder in spring drills and will return home to pursue a medical degree.

Pitt hoops to face Tennessee

Pitt's 2011-12 basketball schedule will feature at least one nonconference opponent from a power conference.

The Panthers will visit Tennessee on Dec. 3 as part of the Big East-SEC Challenge. The game is a rematch of last year's 83-76 Pitt loss at Consol Energy Center.

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