Pitt signs all 23 targeted recruits on National Signing Day
Finally, the Pitt football team belongs to Paul Chryst.
The Panthers coach won't accept it, of course, humbly deferring ownership to his players. Yet, when Chryst received letters of intent from 23 recruits Wednesday, the roster included all but 16 players who have joined the team since he was hired in December 2011. A total of 50 (almost 60 percent) will be those he signed in the past 12 months.
Chryst's 2014 class, his third at Pitt, includes players from 10 states who man 10 positions. When they arrive this summer — Upper St. Clair defensive end Rori Blair is the only one to enroll early — they will meet a group of veterans who know the demands that come with playing for a Chryst team.
Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, a close confidante who is entering his seventh consecutive season, sees a subtle change in how players approach their tasks. Incoming freshmen will bear the same expectations.
“I like the groups we have,” Rudolph said of the older players. “Adding to that not only adds to the competition there but also starts creating a little bit of tradition of how you practice.
“You can't afford to have that down day because the guy right behind you is pushing you hard. You truly got it right when the older guys are teaching the younger guys from the minute they walk in the door.
“We're getting there. We're getting there pretty quickly.”
The class is not highly ranked — 44th by Rivals.com, 42nd by Scout.com and unranked by ESPN — but it has the potential for depth. Pitt added two or more players at eight positions but not the most important: quarterback.
“Program-wise, we are under it right now,” Chryst said of his quarterback depth chart that includes sophomore-to-be Chad Voytik, senior-to-be Trey Anderson and incoming freshman Adam Bertke. He said there are no plans to add a fourth.
“Our ideal formula is you take one a year, and you have five in the program,” he said. “This year, we have two and are excited about Adam. It's good for the spring (drills). Chad and Trey are going to get a lot of work.”
Chryst didn't mention Wade Freebeck, who verbally committed in June and decommitted less than 24 hours before signing day. A university spokesman said Chryst would answer questions only about players who signed with Pitt, in accordance with NCAA restrictions.
The lack of many quality recruits — only offensive linemen Alex Bookser and Mike Grimm, running back Chris James and wide receiver Adonis Jennings earned four-star ratings — is no sure indicator of the future, Chryst said.
“Aaron Donald had an unbelievable year,” Chryst said of the former defensive tackle who won four national honors last season. “(Four) years ago, what was the story? Was he the lead?”
Donald was a three-star recruit who ranked fifth in Pitt's 2010 class.
“I've been around five-star guys who were All-Americans,” Chryst said. “I've been around five-star guys who didn't play a down.
“Right in between is the truth, and that's a pretty broad deal. The story is not written yet.”
Several class members have their own story to tell:
• Bertke, a three-sport star at tiny Marion Local (Ohio), was a three-year starter for a three-time state champion that won 41 of 45 games. “Once he focuses on one sport,” Chryst said, “he has a chance to really grow.”
• Defensive tackle Connor Dintino earned All-American status last year at the Prep Wrestling Nationals. Coaches believe his knowledge of leverage will serve him well on an almost 300-pound body.
• Linebacker James Folston Jr., whose father played eight years in the NFL and whose brother Tarean is a Notre Dame running back, weighed 170 pounds a year ago. Chryst said he recently checked in at 221.
• Jennings might be the closest to contributing as a freshman. “He has a chance to make an impact sooner than later,” Chryst said.
• Tight end Brian O'Neill plays basketball at Salesianum School (Wilmington, Del.), and Chryst recently attended a game. “He had 18 boards, 15 points and three solid fouls,” he said, with a smile.
Four years from now, Chryst hopes to still be smiling at O'Neill and his classmates.
Note: Wide receivers coach Bobby Engram is one of three candidates for the same position with the Baltimore Ravens, the Baltimore Sun reported, citing an anonymous source.