Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi keeps his recruiting eye on New Jersey
New Jersey has long been a fertile recruiting ground for Pitt football coaches, dating to the final days of Walt Harris and Dave Wannstedt. It remains so for current coach Pat Narduzzi, who has crossed Pennsylvania's eastern border aggressively, signing eight New Jersey athletes in four recruiting classes -- not counting the two verbal commits he has for 2019.
But something happened earlier in this decade amidst the turnover of coaches. The interstate pipeline that carried Joe Flacco, Oderick Turner, Dion Lewis, Jason Hendricks, Ray Graham, T.J. Clemmings and K'Waun Williams to Pitt became clogged for a few years.
You can't say Wannstedt's successor, Todd Graham, failed to recruit New Jersey. Graham didn't have any N.J. recruits in his lone Pitt class (2011), but he wasn't around long enough (11 months) to be accused of ignoring the state.
Paul Chryst's stay was two years longer than Graham's. But he signed just three in three years, including offensive tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith, who lived in Camden, N.J., but went to high school in Philadelphia.
The other two -- defensive lineman Reggie Green and wide receiver Adonis Jennings -- ended up transferring to Robert Morris and Temple, respectively. Jennings was a star at Temple last season, catching 42 passes for 742 yards and seven touchdowns.
That wasn't a sufficient haul, considering New Jersey's population of more than 9 million, Pitt's previous connections there and the elite talent pool. Competition is fierce, however.
N.J.com recruiting analyst Todderick Hunt ranked the top 50 New Jersey recruits (regardless of grade). His top five (in order) are defensive tackle Antonio Alfano, guard Caedan Wallace, defensive end David Ojabo, offensive tackle John Olmstead and wide receiver Ronnie Hickman. They verbally committed to Alabama, Penn State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State,
respectively, and all five have Pitt offers.
Who are the top 50 high school football recruits in New Jersey? | Presenting the new https://t.co/OnJ1w6hpDh Top 50, July 2 edition (13 recruits debut on the list) #NJFootball @HSSportsNJ https://t.co/KBMvWcfY5d— Todderick Hunt (@TodderickHunt) July 2, 2018
With assistants Tim Salem and Cory Sanders covering the state, three of Narduzzi's New Jersey recruits have been in his starting lineup and some others will be over the next few seasons.
They include Kenny Pickett, the first quarterback Pitt recruited from New Jersey since Flacco (2003), linebacker Saleem Brightwell and wide receiver Maurice Ffrench. Five others -- defensive end Kaymar Mimes, quarterback Nick Patti, offensive linemen Carter Warren and Owen Drexel and safety Phil Campbell -- could provide depth this season or next.
The two who have yet to play their senior seasons of high school -- defensive end Bryce Nelms of West Orange, N.J., and tight end Jason Collier of Westville, N.J. -- are considered by Hunt among the best players in the state.
He wrote that Nelms has "as much upside as any defensive line recruit in the state and has just scratched the surface. And he's also coming off a solid camp season. The recent Pitt commit picked the school, shocking the Rutgers landscape as the Knights were thought to lead up until that time. Ten of his 16 total offers came from Power 5 conferences."
Hunt did not rank Collier in his top 50, but it was a close call, he said.
"Collier is an example of what a lot of teams are doing nowadays -- looking to big tight ends -- and developing them into future offensive tackles," he said when contacted by The Tribune-Review on Monday.
"He is a big athlete, who can move well enough to play tight end in some schemes. But he suddenly becomes an elite mover when you move him to tackle.
"He's flexible, can bend, has long arms and nimble feet. He picked up some big Power 5 offers late but never really got to settle into his recruitment with Pitt snatching him up, and having him shut his recruitment down almost as fast as it got going.
"I have him ranked right outside the NJ.com Top 50. But he has as much upside as anyone on the list."
Overall, Pitt has made offers to 19 of Hunt's 50 players, including undecided four-star wide receivers John Metchie (No. 7) and Maryln Johnson (No. 23), both of whom go to Peddie Preparatory School.
Metchie, 6-0, 195, has offers from Alabama, Penn State, Michigan and Notre Dame; he might be out of Pitt's league ast the moment. Pitt's competition for Johnson, 6-4, 195, includes West Virginia, Duke, Maryland, Virginia, Nebraska, Kentucky, Boston College, Wake Forest and Rutgers.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.