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Harlan: Division-I recruiters still covet Western Pennsylvania linemen

| Saturday, July 8, 2017, 4:30 p.m.
Virginia Athletics
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall has commitments from two WPIAL linemen: North Allegheny's Derek Devine and Beaver's Bryce Ramer.

Pitt's Pat Narduzzi has commitments from four WPIAL linemen, but he isn't the only coach who likes Western Pennsylvania's 300-pounders.

In fact, there's another in the ACC who is showing new interest.

Virginia's Bronco Mendenhall secured commitments last week from North Allegheny's Derek Devine and Beaver's Bryce Ramer, two oversized and somewhat overlooked tackles who will be seniors this fall. That makes six WPIAL linemen headed to the ACC in 2018, a list that includes Pitt recruits Devin Danielson and Noah Palmer of Thomas Jefferson, Belle Vernon's Blake Zubovic and Butler's Jake Kradel.

In all, more than a dozen rising senior linemen are destined for Division I schools.

“We've had a number of larger-college coaches come through and say it's still a different kind of kid that comes out of the Western Pennsylvania/Eastern Ohio area,” Beaver coach Jeff Beltz said. “Especially, they mention the grit in the linemen. There certainly are other places to find pure athletes, but (gritty linemen) is a niche this area still holds on to.”

It's not surprising to see Pitt recruit WPIAL linemen. The Panthers had Belle Vernon's Dorian Johnson and Fox Chapel's Adam Bisnowaty drafted this summer, three years after Penn Hills' Aaron Donald was an NFL first-rounder. Pitt has a well-established tradition there.

But as Mendenhall nears his second season in Charlottesville, Va., the former BYU coach also has shown an increased interest here.

“Over the spring, four or five different coaches came through from Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “They're really putting an effort in getting up here to Western Pa. and (attracting) some kids from the Northeast region. I know that's been a priority for them.”

Thomas Jefferson linebacker Zane Zandier is part of Virginia's incoming freshman class this fall.

This year, the Cavaliers came looking for linemen. They were interested in Danielson, Kradel and Zubovic before they committed to Pitt.

“They've said they wanted to get tougher and make their team tougher,” Cherpak said. “It's not that they can't get these kids anywhere else, but they felt that (Western Pa.) was a good place for it.”

Virginia, 2-10 last year, hasn't had a winning season since 2011.

Mendenhall couldn't pull any of those three away from Pitt, but his staff added two big bodies who were short on major-college offers. Devine (6-foot-6, 285 pounds) and Ramer (6-5, 300) committed two days apart, Ramer tentatively for defense and Devine for offense.

“After five minutes on campus, I knew it was the place,” Devine said. “It's a beautiful school, great academics and I love all the coaches there. They're all genuine guys.”

Beltz was familiar with Mendenhall from when the then-BYU coach tried to recruit Beaver's Darius Wise. Now, rather than an almost-2,000-mile move, Mendenhall's staff has a campus 300 miles away that offers ACC football.

Devine and Ramer had Bowling Green and Eastern Kentucky among their offers, scholarships lists that included mostly Mid-American and FCS schools. Devine said he heard from other schools, including Pitt and Syracuse, before he jumped at the chance to play in the ACC.

“That's a big deal for me,” Devine said. “You can't play at any higher level. The ACC is Power 5. I'll get great competition at the level, and I'll get to play Pitt, which is cool.”

The WPIAL's uncommitted linemen included two who listed Pitt offers: Central Catholic's David Green (6-2, 250) and McKeesport's Alexander Meadows (6-5, 355). Among the others, Mt. Lebanon teammates Colby Sorsdal (6-5, 285) and Coleman Coco (6-4, 254) have MAC-level D-I offers.

Already committed are Bethel Park's James Gmiter (West Virginia), Penn-Trafford's Logan Hawkins (Akron), South Fayette's Ray Eldridge (Richmond) and Moon's Nick Kotok (Army).

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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