Pitt football notebook: QB recruit will face tougher competition

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 6:24 p.m.

Pitt recruit Wade Freebeck has much to prove as a quarterback, but John Congemi likes what he sees.

Freebeck, who plays for Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, is one of two quarterback recruits in Pitt's 2014 class. He attended the Ken Mastrole Passing Academy in Ft. Lauderdale where Congemi, a former Pitt star and fellow Florida native, is an instructor.

“He has the skill set to be able to play college football at the highest level,” Congemi said. “He's an intelligent kid and a hard worker, which is something you're looking to find (in quarterbacks).”

What Pitt coaches are eager to see is how Freebeck responds to the dramatic upgrade in competition this season.

Freebeck transferred from Western High School to St. Thomas in Ft. Lauderdale after last season.

“He needs to have this year under his belt to gain experience at the highest level,” said Congemi, who quarterbacked St. Thomas' first undefeated team in the early 1980s.

St. Thomas won its seventh state championship last season in Florida's second-highest classification and is No. 16 in MaxPreps' preseason national rankings.

The team has scheduled games this year at two NFL venues. The first will be against Miami Northwestern at Sun Life Stadium, home of the Dolphins, before St. Thomas ventures into the Superdome in New Orleans where the opponent will be defending national champ John Curtis (La.) Christian.

“There is a lot of pressure at St. Thomas,” coach Rocco Casullo said.

Freebeck appears to be capable of handling it.

He threw for 1,850 yards and 17 touchdowns at Western last year while playing the final four games on a broken ankle that didn't receive treatment until after the last game.

He also suffered a broken thumb in St. Thomas' spring drills this year when a blitzing linebacker forgot that quarterbacks are supposed to be protected in practice.

Plus, he has beefed up from 180 to 202 pounds, Casullo said. At 6-foot-5, he has the frame that may grow in a college weight room.

“I consider myself a pretty strong skinny kid,” he said.

Freebeck, rated a three-star by Rivals.com, could improve his stock and draw greater attention from other schools. He said it won't matter.

“I am solid (toward Pitt),” he said. “I took my time and did my diligence with research, finding out the best place. I'm definitely shutting it down.”

Building depth

With Freebeck and Adam Bertke (6-5, 210) of Maria Stein, Ohio, Pitt has two quarterbacks in its recruiting class for the first time since 2010. That year, the Panthers brought in Anthony Gonzalez and Mark Myers. Gonzalez will start at outside linebacker this season; Myers has transferred.

McKenzie and Pitt

Washington High School's Shai McKenzie, one of the top running backs in the WPIAL, watched with interest as Rushel Shell left Pitt and then tried to return.

He said the situation won't prevent him from keeping an open mind about Pitt.

“There has to be a reason why he left and a reason why he wanted to come back,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie lists his five preferred schools as Florida State, Pitt, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Arkansas.

Dates to remember

Pitt will be represented by wide receiver Devin Street and defensive tackle Aaron Donald at the ACC media days Sunday and Monday. ... Players report to camp Aug. 5, and the first practice is Aug. 6 at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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