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Pitt QB recruit backs out, will attend Vanderbilt

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 3:21 p.m.

Quarterback Wade Freebeck said choosing Vanderbilt over Pitt wasn't easy.

“It was very stressful,” he said Tuesday night. “I'm stressed out.”

Freebeck said he chose an opportunity to get a degree from Vanderbilt, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the U.S., more than he passed on Pitt.

Freebeck said Vanderbilt's “pedigree” — it was 17th in U.S. News & World Report's 2013 university rankings — was the deciding factor.

“Football is football,” said Freebeck, who said he carries a 4.7 grade-point average at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “For me, if I can utilize it to get the best education, that's what I want to do.”

He said giving Pitt coach Paul Chryst the bad news — after he had committed June 30 — was difficult.

“It was nothing Pitt lacked. They are definitely on the right track,” Freebeck said. “I was disappointed to have to tell him something like that. He was very understanding, a good person.”

Letters of intent become binding Wednesday, and Pitt is expected to get one from 23 prospects. But the Pitt targets who are choosing to sign elsewhere are creating a significant buzz.

“Losing a player of (Freebeck's) caliber hurts no matter what time of the recruiting cycle it is,” ESPN recruiting analyst Jared Shanker said, “but it hurts even more less than 24 hours before signing day.”

Shanker said prospects changing their minds is becoming a nationwide trend.

“You are going to see some of the biggest names, guys more highly regarded than Freebeck, flipping (Wednesday),” he said.

Pitt missed on several top WPIAL players this year, but seven others are expected to sign. They include four-star offensive linemen Alex Bookser of Mt. Lebanon and Mike Grimm of Bethel Park and three-stars Elijah Zeise of North Allegheny and Jaquan Davidson of Elizabeth Forward.

“It's a solid class,” Shanker said, “but it could be better in some areas.

“You have to give Chryst the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, it definitely hurts when you have a few guys on your board, local guys, who were considering Pitt and ended up going elsewhere.”

Freebeck had been solid in his commitment until Jan. 24, when Vanderbilt began to recruit him heavily after former coach James Franklin left for Penn State and took quarterback recruit Trace McSorley with him.

Freebeck, who threw for 3,476 yards and 33 touchdowns the past two seasons at Western and St. Thomas Aquinas high schools in Florida, is rated a four-star prospect by ESPN.com, a three-star by Rivals.com and a two-star by Scout.com.

Pitt's coaches had visited him in his home twice in six days last month.

Quarterback Adam Bertke, a three-star recruit from Maria Stein, Ohio, remains committed to the Panthers. Bertke (6-foot-6, 210 pounds) said he received a call from quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger on Tuesday.

“He was making sure everything was squared away for signing day,” he said. “I can't wait to make it official.”

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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