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Pitt must reload from Class of '11 defections

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

If Pitt coach Paul Chryst performs only one task Wednesday during letter of intent day, this should be it:

Plug in the fax machine and make sure it's full of paper.

Pitt's class is loaded ­— with bodies, at least — and Chryst is counting on 23 pledges from the Class of 2013 to send in their signed letters. Add four players who enrolled last month, and Pitt's 27-man class is the second largest at the university since 1994, when the NCAA capped scholarships at 85.

It's such a bountiful class that Pitt may find itself over the limit by four players at the end of the day.

But the trick is not just to turn them into productive players. The tougher job is keeping them.

At worst, Chryst expects to do better than former coach Todd Graham did with his only Pitt recruiting class.

Nowhere is the previous instability at the highest level of the Pitt football program more evident than this little signing-day fact: Of the 23 players Graham brought to Pitt in 2011, including quarterback Trey Anderson who didn't arrive until August, 11 are no longer with the team.

“That's unusual,” said Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “That means these (current coaches) don't really like those (departed) players.”

Yet, there are circumstances that explain the disappearance of nearly half the class after only two seasons. When Graham replaced Dave Wannstedt, he changed the offense from a pro style to a speed-based option, a shift that required a specific type of athlete. When Chryst replaced Graham and brought back the pro style, several recruits no longer fit.

Plus, Graham wasn't hired until Jan. 11, less than a month before signing day.

“It was a hectic deal,” said former quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge, who spent one season at Pitt and is now the coach and athletic director at Marble Falls (Texas) High School. “Coach Wannstedt had a nice covey of commitments, and then by the time we came aboard, understandably, (some) were headed in different directions.”

Graham's roots are in Texas and Oklahoma and for the first time, Pitt was seriously reaching into those states for recruits, such as running backs Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis. Both played key backup roles under Graham, but their playing time diminished last season. Bennett became a good special teams player while Davis transferred to Louisiana-Monroe, where he will play cornerback.

Eight of the 11 transferred, but only cornerback Lloyd Carrington ended up at a BCS school, not coincidentally with Graham at Arizona State, where he will compete for a starting job this season. Defensive back Roderick Ryles (Lindenwood, Mo.) and linebacker Jason Frimpong (Central Oklahoma) are playing at the Division II level.

Graham, who declined to comment for this story, didn't recruit a quarterback by signing day after striking out with California four-star Michael Eubank, who ended up at Arizona State.

“We felt if we didn't get one who was big-time special,” Dodge said, “we would not just reach for one.”

Several months later when quarterback depth was vanishing, Pitt turned to Anderson, but he has played sparingly and will be behind Tom Savage and Chad Voytik next season.

Dodge, who said he never heard from Graham after he left for Arizona State, keeps in touch with Anderson and watches Pitt from afar.

“The great thing for Paul and his staff is that they have been able to go a full year and there is starting to be some stability,” he said.

“I have a special place in my heart for the University of Pittsburgh. My time there was short. I wish it would have lasted longer.”

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