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Pitt's Narduzzi continues recruiting chase in final hours before signing day

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, 6:27 p.m.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi

In his first two seasons at Pitt, coach Pat Narduzzi has displayed an important trait: He's unwilling to accept matters as they appear.

Only weeks after he became Pitt's coach in December 2014, he was recruiting transfer quarterback Nathan Peterman from Tennessee when he knew incumbent Chad Voytik was expecting to lead the team in 2015. Peterman became a two-year starter at Pitt and is preparing for an NFL career.

Now, with national letter of intent day set to begin at 7 a.m. Wednesday, Narduzzi's 2017 class might include five high school seniors who committed elsewhere before pledging to Pitt.

And, most intriguing, he has aggressively recruited running backs over the past year, even though he has three returners — Darrin Hall, Chawntez Moss and 2015 ACC offensive rookie of the year Qadree Ollison — who have shown varying levels of promise and productivity.

Transfers can happen in the current college football climate, but all three backs have multiple years of eligibility remaining.

Narduzzi is preparing for every possibility, and he's eager to build camp competition after the departure of James Conner.

Pitt already has a verbal commitment from Akron (Ohio) Hoban running back Todd Sibley, who previously committed to Ohio State. He tried to lure Kyshaun Bryan of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., but Bryan opted for Iowa.

Next on Narduzzi's wish list is Lakeland (Fla.) running back Anthony “A.J.” Davis, who has 36 offers and will pick one Wednesday on ESPNU's live signing day coverage. Pitt, North Carolina, Louisville and South Florida look like the favorites. LSU and Miami showed late interest, Lakeland assistant coach Will Bahler said.

Davis, 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, is a four-star prospect who is the first back in Lakeland history to lead the team in rushing four consecutive years and the first three-time Polk County Player of the Year three times. He finished with more than 5,400 yards.

Rivals.com ranks Davis among its top 250 players in the nation (No. 247) and the 14th running back (No. 3 in Florida).

“He has the speed to get on the outside, and he's physical enough to run in between the tackles,” said Bahler, who was impressed with Davis as far back as eighth grade.

At that young age, Davis wasn't eligible for spring practice. Yet, instead of taking the school bus home, he rode a city bus to watch practice, Bahler said.

“He could have easily gone home in the AC and played video games, but he is coming to watch practice, standing outside the huddle just listening” Bahler said. “When he got to varsity, he knew our entire offense.”

Bahler said Narduzzi was one of four members of the Pitt staff to visit Lakeland this year. Lakeland cornerback Damarri Mathis, a cousin to Davis, verbally committed to Pitt.

“A lot of coaches come in and stand in the middle of the room so all eyes are on them,” Bahler said. “(Narduzzi) comes in and sits down on one of the couches in the football office and kicked back. A down-to-earth guy.”

Pitt will continue recruiting other players into Wednesday, including defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman of H.D. Woodson High School in Washington D.C. and defensive end Guy Thomas of Booker T. Washington in Miami. Thomas has given Nebraska a verbal pledge.

Two preferred walk-ons could help fill special teams voids left by graduation — Central Catholic long snapper Cal Adomitis and kicker Grant Kersh of Hoban.

Kersh kicked four field goals in an Ohio semifinal in 2015 and a 53-yarder last season.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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