Pitt, Penn State make late gains
With only a handful of exceptions, national signing day for Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia followed a familiar script Wednesday.
There were the usual surprises — including Pitt rallying late to secure the signature of highly-touted cornerback Lafayette Pitts on a letter of intent after the Woodland Hills' two-way star shunned an early commitment to Pitt for Rutgers.
There were disappointments — including West Virginia losing coveted Texas running back Jermichael Selders to Baylor. But the blow was softened some by the signing of four-star defensive backs Vance Roberts and Terrell Chestnut, once a Pitt verbal commit.
There were unexpected gains — including Penn State's signing of two of former Pitt recruits, wide receiver Bill Belton and linebacker Ben Kline, and four-star defensive back Adrian Amos. While the Nittany Lions coaching staff would not comment on their recruiting class, Belton and Amos are expected to challenge for playing time during the 2011 season.
Even though neither program's recruiting class is ranked among the top 30 by the major recruiting websites, Scott Kennedy of Scout.com said both Pitt and Penn State rallied late to salvage an otherwise average recruiting season.
The clock wasn't on Graham's side when he accepted the Pitt job amid a cloud of uncertainty last month following the resignation of Dave Wannstedt and the firing of Mike Haywood. Yet, he and his staff pulled together a class of 20 recruits, including six defensive backs and four running backs.
"It's been a very unique three weeks," Graham said during a press conference at Heinz Field. "I covered a lot of area in a short period of time. I think we talked with 24 players in 10 days.
"It's a dream come true for me. This is a place where you can come and compete for a national championship."
Graham met with former Pitt coaches Johnny Majors and Jackie Sherrill. Both suggested the path to winning a national championship winds through Western Pennsylvania.
So getting Pitts was a significant recruitment victory.
"We felt (Pitts) he was the key for us," said Graham, a former high school coach. "We went through a lot of drama, but he was a must for us."
"Our goal is to keep the best and brightest here in Western Pennsylvania. We are looking for kids who have great character and integrity. We are looking for givers and not takers whose ideals are what we are looking for in a program."
Graham, too, is looking for speed and toughness.
He courted players who possess the explosiveness to make plays on both sides of the ball. It's why he invested plenty of sweat equity into pursuing hard-hitting defensive back Lloyd Carrington and running back Isaac Bennett, both of whom have been timed at 4.3 in the 40.
"This is a fast group," Graham said. "Our philosophy is to recruit speed, and this is a fast group. You can't be high-octane if you don't have speed."
Graham, though, didn't get all the blue-chippers he wanted.
Michael Eubank, rated by some as the best quarterback in California, visited Pitt but opted for Arizona State. Woodland Hills linebacker Ejuan Price considered Pitt over Ohio State, but decided on the Buckeyes.
"We feel like we've been working to build and mend relationships with all the kids — even the ones we didn't get," said Mike Norvell, Pitt's director of recruiting. "I feel confident we have a great class, but there have been some challenges."
West Virginia's recruiting class has a distinct Texas flare. Dana Holgorsen, who is the coach-in-waiting and offensive coordinator, brought in two Texas natives to Morgantown.
"I'm really excited about this class. It's a really solid class," said WVU head coach Bill Stewart. "You never hit a home run every time you swing, but I feel really good about this class."
The Mountaineers are hoping they hit a home run with one their quarterbacks, Brian Athey and Paul Millard. They are likely to contend for the backup job behind Geno Smith because of the departure of freshmen Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson.
"Without these two quarterbacks, we would probably call off spring ball," Holgorsen said sarcastically. "Those guys are going to be important to us to progress from an offensive standpoint."
West Virginia did get a surprise Wednesday when two-star Florida offensive lineman Marquis Lucas picked WVU over Rutgers. The Mountaineers were able to sign 17 players Wednesday.
"There's nothing stable about recruiting," Holgorsen said. "To get the guys we got was an everyday battle."
It was seemingly an uphill battle for Penn State, considering they had one of the smallest recruiting classes in the Big Ten. Still, coach Joe Paterno managed to lure some of the nation's top talent to University Park.
The Nittany Lions' class of 16 signees includes four highly-rated linemen, who are considered the best in their states:
— Angelo Mangiro, "best lineman in New Jersey."
— U.S. Army All-American Donovan Smith of Owings Mills, Md.
— Defensive end Anthony Zettel, who was considering Michigan before former coach Rich Rodriguez was fired.
— Deion Barnes of Northeast and Shawn Oakman of Lansdowne, who were two of the best defensive ends in Pennsylvania, according to Lemming.