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Gorman: Recruits say hello, as Pitt has good bye

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 10:40 p.m.

The most important weekend in Pitt's football season, as it turns out, is a bye.

The Panthers have little left to play for but, when it comes to recruiting, they have a lot left to gain.

It's no accident that their top two targets — Central Valley receiver Robert Foster and Belle Vernon offensive tackle Dorian Johnson — are making official visits this weekend, even though the Panthers don't have a game.

“For Pitt, it's big because they have a bye week and there's a basketball game,” 247 Sports recruiting analyst Bob Lichtenfels said. “If you have a game, you're going to the hotel Friday and doing your game preparations.

“It's important because of the access to the coaches and players and getting a feel for what they haven't seen yet, whereas on game day there is so much involved that you have a very, very limited window there. With the bye, they can roll out the red carpet.”

Pitt is taking advantage of its bye to play host to two of the state's top prospects, as well as its rare distinction as a major-college program where the game-day atmosphere is better in basketball than it is for football.

Why bring recruits to a half-empty Heinz Field when you can show them a sold-out Petersen Events Center?

“How many times over the years has that basketball environment with the Oakland Zoo helped them land a recruit?” Lichtenfels said, knowing that it helped lure star tailback LeSean McCoy, among others.

Lichtenfels believes Pitt is gambling by bringing Foster and Johnson for official visits on the same weekend, but the Panthers could reap major rewards if it works.

“There's two sides to that: You have the top two targets in the state. If one doesn't like it, he can poison the other. But if they both like it, they can influence each other,” Lichtenfels said. “They're going to talk, so it's risky. You have to decide whether the rewards outweigh the risk.”

Pitt doesn't have much of a choice. Foster and Johnson not only represent two of the top talents in the WPIAL but also could fill major needs on the Panthers' depth chart.

“They're Western Pa. kids, so that's important, just for aesthetics,” Lichtenfels said. “To be a top-flight program, you have to control your own area. When you have national-caliber recruits and they leave, it doesn't look good for you.”

To get them to stay, Pitt is asking two national-caliber recruits to say hello during what it hopes is a good bye.

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