Recruiting: A Backyard Brawl forming on recruiting trail

| Saturday, May 19, 2012, 3:25 p.m.

Now that Pitt and West Virginia won't play football anymore, their only Backyard Brawl is for recruits.

The Mountaineers beat the Panthers for a WPIAL star for the second time in a week when Monessen quarterback Chavas Rawlins made a verbal commitment Friday, after McKeesport linebacker Hodari Christian chose WVU over Pitt. (Earlier this spring, Seton-La Salle tight end Scott Orndoff chose Pitt over WVU, among others).

The bad news for the Panthers is that Rawlins is the stepson of the late Jo Jo Heath, a star receiver at Pitt in the late 1970s.

“I grew up a Pitt fan all my life, a diehard Pitt fan, actually,” said Rawlins, who also followed the Panthers during the career of nose tackle Mick Williams, another former Monessen star.

“I loved Pitt when I was a kid. If ‘Big Jo' was here today and I had to tell him I wanted to go to West Virginia, it would be the hardest thing I would have to do, but I think he would support me.”

A dual-threat quarterback, Rawlins believes his style of play is a perfect fit at West Virginia. And that has more to do with his decision than how the respective coaching staffs recruited him.

Where Pitt will return to a pro-style system under Paul Chryst, West Virginia attracted Rawlins with its air-raid offense and the promise to play his preferred position. Some scouts question his accuracy and arm strength, however, and project the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder as a receiver or strong safety.

But Rawlins, who chose WVU over Duke and Tennessee, said the differing college campus settings were a greater factor in his decision than offensive systems.

“If their coaching staff was anywhere else, that definitely would be my school,” Rawlins said. “They're all great people. I just didn't see myself at Pitt.”

What could be a concern for Pitt is if Rawlins' decision has a domino effect on its other top WPIAL targets.

His brother, Justice, is a running back-linebacker who is considered one of the top juniors in the WPIAL. And Rawlins said he will try to persuade his cousin, Belle Vernon tackle Dorian Johnson, and close friend, Clairton receiver Tyler Boyd, to join him in Morgantown.

The Panthers can overcome losing Rawlins to a rival, especially if he wasn't a quarterback in their eyes.

But losing Boyd and Johnson to West Virginia would be as bad as being blown out in the Backyard Brawl, a game that now only exists on the recruiting trail.

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