Pitt gets letters of intent from 15 of 16 commits as early signing period begins
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi made the most significant point about his 2018 recruiting class at the outset of the news conference Wednesday afternoon.
"This is just a step," he said. "Now, there's a lot of learning to go through."
Pitt signed 16 players Wednesday, including two from junior colleges who could fill desperate, immediate needs at quarterback (backup, at least) and on the offensive line.
Probably the most dynamic signing also took the longest to come to fruition. Wide receiver Shyheem "Shocky" Jacques-Louis of Fort Myers, Fla., chose Pitt over his other finalists, Kentucky and Tennessee. He waited until after 6 p.m. to announce it, but at least Jacques-Louis is fast on a football field.
"He makes everybody look like a smart coach," said Sam Brown, who coached him at Dunbar High School.
Narduzzi probably knew of Jacques-Louis' decision a few days before it became public, so he didn't mind waiting.
"He's an elite receiver," Narduzzi said. "We worked extremely hard in recruiting him."
Eventually — if not sooner — Jacques-Louis could fill a big hole in Pitt's return game after Quadree Henderson left for the NFL.
The other big needs were:
• Quarterback, after backups Ben DiNucci and Thomas MacVittie wasted little time after the end of the season to announce their decisions to transfer. They saw how well Kenny Pickett played to end the season and realized their best chance to play quarterback rested elsewhere.
• Offensive line, thanks to tackle Brian O'Neill leaving early for the NFL and three seniors — Alex Officer, Jaryd Jones-Smith and Brandon Hodges — exhausting their eligibility.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said it was difficult seeing two of his players leave, and it wasn't just because DiNucci, who has only two years of eligibility remaining, started six games.
"I love those guys," he said. "When you spend so much time with those kids, you become part of their lives.
"Each one had an aspiration and a dream. Ben's on a short clock. We were very blunt with them, very honest with them, answered the questions as they needed because of the respect we had for them. Wish them the best."
Pitt moved quickly to fill the hole at quarterback. High school senior Nick Patti was committed for several months, but Narduzzi needed experienced depth and competition at the position. That started a late push for junior college quarterback Ricky Town (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) of Ventura (Calif.) College.
"No one knew he was coming," Narduzzi said, pleased that he was able to keep the recruitment of Town a secret. "Surprise visit. He left another visit to come on our visit."
Watson said Town has a similar skill set to Pickett, including "big-arm talent."
"He can get out and run, too. He's an effective runner, more than an effective runner."
Narduzzi said he expected to lose one quarterback to a transfer, but two forced Pitt to bring in Town for a visit before he even had a scholarship offer.
He received the offer Sunday over a cheeseburger at Fathead's, Narduzzi said.
"It didn't take long," he said. "I'm glad it didn't take long. We didn't have long."
Narduzzi said Town will give some competition to Pickett, who started one game this season.
"What you want at the quarterback spot is guy who wants to compete," he said. "Kenny is our starting quarterback right now, and Ricky's coming in to challenge for it and make him better."
Pitt also filled a need on the offensive line with junior college offensive lineman Chase Brown (6-5, 310) of Lackawanna Community College.
"He's a mature, big athletic guy who will have a chance to compete immediately,"Narduzzi said, "mainly because he's coming in mid-year."
Brown, Town and offensive lineman Jake Kradel of Butler are enrolling in January.
Narduzzi said nothing that happened Wednesday surprised him, but one player who made a verbal pledge in June — tight end Matt Alaimo, who was Patti's teammate at St. Joseph Regional in Westwood, N.J. — didn't sign.
Without naming names, which would have been an NCAA violation, Narduzzi didn't seem bothered by Alaimo's indecision.
"It's going to be re-evaluated," he said when asked a generic question about pledges who don't sign. "I don't want to put pressure on anybody. It's got to be the right fit, and it's got to be the right reason. You can't blame somebody for getting cold feet because it's not easy.
"I'd rather it happen now than after signing day and the first week of doubles (training camp).
"It comes down to relationships in recruiting, and the guys who sign with us value relationships and maybe some of the ones who didn't don't value those as much."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
Here is the list of signees: