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Pitt

Persistence helps Pitt put finishing touches on football recruiting class

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, 7:45 p.m.

For days, Stefano Millin didn't answer his phone.

Oh, there was a polite response by text message when Pitt's coaches kept trying to recruit Millin, a graduate transfer offensive tackle from Kent State:

"Thank you, sir, but I'm going to Cincinnati," he wrote.

Pat Narduzzi read the text, but thought little of it. He's never really mastered the art of taking no for an answer.

Undeterred, he called Millin's father Bruno, finding a perfect conduit to rely the invitation to visit Pitt's campus.

Long story short, Millin came to town, liked what he saw and heard, and Wednesday he was one of five players to sign letters of intent to join Pitt's team this year.

Said Millin when he verbally committed a week ago, "If you know (Narduzzi), you know he's relentless. He said, 'Just come out and take a visit. You can't say no to something you haven't seen.' He made a really good point of that."

Pitt wanted an experienced tackle to complement rising senior guard Alex Bookser and sophomore center Jimmy Morrissey. Millin impressed coaches with how he handled Clemson defenders this year, but they also liked his leadership skills, something three-year starting tackle Brian O'Neill provided before opting for the NFL. "I won't be surprised if (Millin) walks in that offensive line meeting room and becomes the dad of that group," Narduzzi said.

The other four prospects signed Wednesday are:

• Italian-born defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado, who is fluent in three languages, has produced a video where he does backflips and recorded 30½ sacks at Clearwater (Fla.) Academy International.

• Defensive end Kaymar Mimes of Long Branch, N.J., who almost went to Rutgers.

• Cypress, Texas, cornerback Erick Hallett, snagged almost at the last minute, thanks to new defensive coordinator Randy Bates' connections.

• Washington D.C. running back Mychale Salahuddin, rated the No. 5 all-purpose back in the nation by Rivals.com and 247Sports.

They join a 20-man recruiting class (16 signed in December) that has lifted Pitt to 36th in Rivals.com's national rankings. That's only eighth in the ACC, but second-highest of the four classes signed by Narduzzi and 29 spots better than the 2015 group assembled a month after he was hired.

This year's ranking doesn't account for wide receiver Taysir Mack, who is sitting out the '18 season after transferring from Indiana, or Millin, who can help immediately because he has graduated.

Millin is the penciled-in starter at offensive tackle, but the high school gem of the class is Salahuddin, the only Pitt prospect rated a 4-star by Rivals (the others are 3s).

Getting the No. 1 prospect from the nation's capital is an example of Narduzzi thinking on his feet.

One day, he and his coaches were bouncing around D.C., visiting recruits. Suddenly, a thought came to him: "Why not visit Mychale at H.D. Woodson High School?"

The pop-in visit so impressed Salahuddin that eventually he chose Pitt over USC (where he was once a verbal commit) and Syracuse. The result is that the longest smile at Pitt's training facility belongs to running backs coach Andre Powell.

"He brings more pure speed to the group and a guy who can create a little bit more," said Powell, who said Salahuddin's signing triggered a celebration among coaches that matched last year when A.J. Davis chose Pitt. "He can erase bad blocks."

That's something former Pitt running back James Conner could do. Powell compared Salahuddin to a "bigger (Andre) Ellington in terms of seeing it and hitting it." Powell coached Ellington at Clemson, where he ran for 3,436 yards.

Narduzzi said he wasn't sure Salahuddin would choose Pitt, but he was the only back he wanted.

"We wanted a tailback, but we weren't going to take just any tailback," he said. "Mychale was the guy we wanted bad."

Now, Pitt has running backs on four levels — seniors Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison, sophomore Davis, redshirt freshman Todd Sibley and Salahuddin.

Pitt loaded up on defensive ends this year, getting four, including Thomas Jefferson's Noah Palmer and DeMatha Catholic's John Morgan, both signed in December.

Mimes almost got away to Rutgers, where he verbally committed in December. Narduzzi said he stepped in and "put a halt to the marriage."

"We were at the front doors of the church, locked the church doors up and said, 'No, there is no marriage here today.' We stopped the marriage, and we married him ourselves."

When Mimes didn't sign with Rutgers in December, Long Branch coach Dan George told NJ.com, "Rutgers is shocked."

Narduzzi should be exhausted after finalizing this class. After all, he changed the mind of a college graduate, surprised a kid in the middle of the day at his high school and stopped a "wedding."

But now he's talking (perhaps more than half seriously) about taking a trip to Rome to meet with Baldonado's mom. So far, they've only face-timed.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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