The cheering and applause for Robert Foster had faded, and most students had gone home for the holiday when his mother, Sherrice Clements, walked into an empty hallway at Central Valley to take one more phone call.
The voice on the other line belonged to Bobby Engram, Pitt's wide receivers coach and the loser to defending national champion Alabama in the Foster sweepstakes.
Clements cheerfully spoke Engram's name and the word “shocked” into her cell phone. Clements was too supportive of her youngest son to be shocked herself, but that probably was an accurate depiction of the feeling in Pitt's football facility Friday. Many people inside the program were cautiously optimistic that Foster would stay close to home and choose the Panthers.
With redshirt junior wide receiver Devin Street checking on his NFL Draft status, Pitt needs a playmaker such as Foster, an star player who scored a touchdown about every six times he caught a pass this season.
Now, the Panthers will continue to recruit Clairton wide receiver Tyler Boyd, possibly with more urgency. Boyd is ranked eighth in the country by Rivals.com among senior wide receivers. Foster is 10th. Both are dangerous return men, another area of need for the Panthers.
Foster is the second elite WPIAL athlete to turn his back on Pitt this year, following North Allegheny offensive lineman Patrick Kugler, who is going to Michigan. Pitt has landed All-American offensive lineman Dorian Johnson of Belle Vernon and six others who were named to the all-state team this week.
Without Foster, the Panthers had the 33rd-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to 247sports.com. Foster could have vaulted Pitt into the top 25.
Engram's phone call to Clements — only 45 minutes after the announcement — indicates Pitt will keep an eye on Foster through letter of intent signing day Feb. 6.
“This is a verbal,” said Central Valley coach Mark Lyons, who said Foster “probably” changed his mind multiple times Friday morning. “That's why I don't know if this is always the best thing to do it this early. But for him, it was the right thing to do.
“I'm never going to say anything is over, but right now, he is comfortable with this.”
Lyons was impressed with Engram's thorough approach to recruiting Foster.
“He spent many days not only coming to school and meeting Robert and his teachers,” Lyons said, “but he drove around to people in the community. He wanted to get to know Robert as a person.”
Said Clements: “I do thank (Pitt's coaches) for their professionalism.”
Foster, who expects to be eligible in his freshman year and avoid prep school, said he developed a close relationship with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“I visited Coach Saban three or four times,” Foster said. “We have a real close relationship. We know each other real tight.
“One of the things I like about Alabama is they made me feel comfortable. I'm not saying Pitt didn't make me feel comfortable, but I felt (Alabama) was a better fit for me.”
Foster has heard the rumors about Saban possibly returning to the NFL after the BCS national championship game Jan. 7.
“That doesn't bother me at all,” Foster said. “Regardless, I am still at college for a reason. If he decides to leave, then I still am going to have to do my job and my classwork.
“I am there to get an education and, hopefully, chase my dreams.”
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