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Gorman: Pitt must return to Sunshine State

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 9:52 p.m.
 

Before Pitt joins the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Panthers need to take a cue from a Big East foe and reconsider their recruiting strategy.

It's time to head south.

If there was a dramatic difference between Pitt and Louisville on Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field, it was in the number of Florida products playing for the Cardinals and the lack of them on the Panthers.

Starting with star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville had as many Floridians in its starting lineup (seven) as Pitt has on its entire roster. It should come as no surprise that the Cardinals had a speed edge.

The Panthers have long leaned on the Sunshine State, from Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Rickey Jackson and All-America tackle Randy Dixon in the 1980s to Biletnikoff winner Antonio Bryant and All-Americans H.B. Blades and Jabaal Sheard in the 2000s.

Pitt almost abandoned Florida entirely after former defensive line coach Charlie Partridge left for Wisconsin in 2007, as Dave Wannstedt wasn't thrilled with trying to sort through the state's leftovers after the ACC and SEC signed its top talent.

That is proving to be a major mistake.

Sure, Pitt had a number of big-time busts from Florida, but the Panthers also discovered future NFL draft picks in Bryant, defensive ends Greg Romeus and Sheard, linebackers Blades and Clint Session and cornerbacks Kennard and Torrie Cox in Florida.

Wannstedt was most proud of discovering Romeus, a Central Florida commit who would develop into a Big East co-defensive player of the year for the Panthers.

Now, I'm not at all suggesting that Pitt focus less on recruiting the WPIAL or the rest of the state.

You won't find a bigger proponent for Western Pennsylvania football than me, and I'm a believer that the Panthers need to keep the majority of the region's top players at home to sustain success.

But if Pitt wants to compete in the aerodynamic ACC, it has to supplement its WPIAL recruiting with players from speed states.

Consider that Louisville has eight starters from either Kentucky or southwest Ohio in its lineup, showing a balance of homegrown talent with stars from Florida and Georgia.

If Pitt wants to compete with schools from those states — Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech — in the ACC, the Panthers better start recruiting there.

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