Pitt, Chryst poised to refill cupboards
Upheaval and defeat within the Pitt football program ultimately will lead to the makeover of a roster that hasn't been good enough the past two seasons.
Players seem convinced Paul Chryst is the coach to lead them out of the shadows, but he needs time to create effective change and better players to compete in the ACC where the challenges will be bigger than what Pitt faced in the Big East.
That's why Pitt may have its largest recruiting class in at least 12 years when high school seniors send in their letters of intent Feb. 6. With 3 1⁄2 weeks to go, Pitt has verbal commitments from 23 players and may end up with as many as five more.
That would be more players in one class than remain from the past two (26).
Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said Chryst is following all of the proper procedures.
“They are targeting positions of need,” Farrell said last week on TribLive Radio. “But they are also trying to find guys who are being overlooked by other programs. They can sneak in and turn out to be great players. He is the guy to do that. He has a great eye for talent.”
Pitt has landed verbal commitments from three four-star recruits: Clairton wide receiver Tyler Boyd, Belle Vernon offensive lineman Dorian Johnson and quarterback Tra'von Chapman of Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ohio.
The others, however, are just as important because they could provide desperately needed depth, even though many three- and two-star prospects won't play until 2014, at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the roster will be young next season, with as many as 52 freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores. Last year, Pitt started the season with a total of 34 from those groupings.
If Chryst can keep most of those 52 players for four or five years, Pitt will have a heavily seasoned team in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Fans may have to wait that long to cheer for an ACC title contender.
“It's not easy when you have had coaching changes,” Farrell said.
The problem is dramatically apparent in the 2011 recruiting class that was hastily put together by former coach Todd Graham, who was hired less than a month before signing day. Everyone in the class wasn't appropriately vetted — there wasn't time — and only 10 of the 21 remain on the team. Many have left simply because they were a better fit for Graham's system.
As a result, Chryst has played catch-up in his 13 months on the job. Most notably, he has found big offensive line prospects to bolster a group that is seriously lacking in depth and couldn't withstand the suspensions of two players and a season-ending injury to a third (guard Ryan Schlieper).
Four of the 23 prospects are offensive linemen who average 6-foot-5, 296 1⁄4 pounds. Chryst was successful at Wisconsin employing tall, broad blockers, and he is trying to shape Pitt's line in the same mold, possibly adding Fox Chapel's Adam Bisnowaty (6-6, 275), who will be a redshirt freshman, to three returning starters.
Developing linemen the right way takes time, and Chryst — a patient man by nature — knows it.
“It looks like he is trying to fill his roster with kids for his system,” Farrell said.
Chryst also is seeking players willing to pay the price.
“He wants guys who are committed, want to work hard and want to rebuild and bring Pitt to what it should be,” said Chapman, one of four 2013 recruits who started classes this month.
Johnson, who played in the Under Armour All-American Bowl on Jan. 4, offers hope, even if he is redshirted this year.
“He is really raw, but he is starting to come together,” Farrell said. “He has become much more physical, much more aggressive. He is willing to mix it up. I think that really showed at Under Armour going against the best in the country.”
Boyd, the Tribune-Review's Player of the Year, played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 5, but he needs to polish his game for the next level after he didn't play wide receiver exclusively at Clairton.
“Not being a true wideout, the biggest thing he struggled with was not getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly,” Farrell said. Still, he calls Boyd “a can't-miss kid.”
“If he doesn't work out on offense, he is the kind of guy who is going to impact your football team. (The All-American Bowl) was a good wake-up call for him. He was average. He didn't stand out. But his upside is tremendous.”
Securing Boyd and Johnson gives Pitt two of the top four WPIAL players after losing Central Valley wide receiver Robert Foster to Alabama and North Allegheny offensive lineman Patrick Kugler to Michigan.
Rivals.com ranks Pitt's class 32nd in the nation, sixth in the 14-team ACC.
The move to the ACC was critical because staying in the decaying Big East gave coaches almost nothing to offer recruits.
“The ACC helps,” Farrell said. “The Big East was an anchor.”
The ultimate attraction will be winning games after consecutive 6-7 finishes the past two seasons.
“They have to win on the field,” he said. “They can't be a middle-of-the-pack team.”