With strong intentions and some luck, Pitt adds 2 prospects on signing day
Just like he has done at the end of four previous signing days as Pitt’s coach, Pat Narduzzi stepped in front of assembled media Wednesday, wearing a wide smile, optimistic about the future of his program.
The scene was a bit different this year, with Pitt getting signatures from only two players — one they wanted and needed, another they found by accident — after signing 18 prospects in December.
He eagerly told the tale of how offensive tackle Nolan Ulizio, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound graduate transfer from Michigan, rebuffed the advances of a school “from down south” because he wanted to sign with Pitt.
He also asked director of player personnel Graham Wilbert to turn on the projector to show off a video of 6-1 linebacker SirVocea Dennis, one of Pitt’s two signees, dunking a basketball.
Eventually, however, he was asked about what was missing from Pitt’s class. After signing a total of 16 players from the WPIAL and City League in the previous three years, he got only one for 2019: Aliquippa wide receiver Will Gipson. The only other Western Pennsylvania player on the list is Farrell’s Kyi Wright.
Also, for the second consecutive year, Pitt signed none of Rivals.com’s top 10-rated Pennsylvania prospects. The only one from the past three classes to choose Pitt was Steel Valley’s Paris Ford in 2017, while Penn State signed nine and Notre Dame five.
Narduzzi confronted the issue by pointing out Pitt recruited “the heck out of our backyard.”
“We’re looking for the best football players,” he said. “If it’s in our backyard, that’s great. Sometimes, you get them. Sometimes, you don’t get them. Sometimes, you don’t want them. Just what fits your need.
“In the end and we’re in the ACC championship game and you’re looking for the (state’s) initials (next to a player’s name on the roster), is it FL? Is it MA? It doesn’t matter where they’re from. It’s what they do on the field.”
Narduzzi, of course, didn’t mention by name any of the local players who decided to go elsewhere. He did tweet, “That’s a wrap,” at 8:30 a.m., 30 minutes before four-star Aliquippa cornerback M.J. Devonshire announced he chose Kentucky over Pitt.
“We spent a ton of time in the schools from Ohio to New Jersey,” Narduzzi said, “and we’re going to get the guys that want to come. I want guys that love Pittsburgh. That’s what it comes down to.
“You either love Pittsburgh and want to play for your city or you don’t. If you don’t, I’m good. We wouldn’t win with you, anyway.”
But Pitt has recruited successfully in Florida, one of the most talent-rich states in the U.S., getting more players from there (six) than anywhere else. That makes 17 in the past three years.
Narduzzi proved he is willing to use almost any means to fill out the roster. Ulizio, who has only one season of eligibility remaining, is the third graduate transfer offensive lineman Pitt has signed in the past three seasons. .
“I know (Michigan) coach (Jim) Harbaugh did not want him to leave,” Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi said he was on the phone with Ulizio’s coach at Lakota West (Ohio) High School the day his name appeared on the transfer portal.
“He couldn’t speak more highly of him,” Narduzzi said. “He was our No. 1 offensive tackle get. We’re lucky to have him. He turned down a bunch of people. After he visited us, someone was supposed to come in to see him from down south, and (he) turned him down. ‘Don’t come see me. I’m done.’
Narduzzi found Dennis at the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J., while sitting with the athletic director and checking out prospects from the 2020 class.
“We weren’t really looking for him,” he said.
But Narduzzi was intrigued when the athletic director mentioned there was an unsigned linebacker in the building.
“He was adamant about this guy,” Narduzzi said. “He said, ‘Coach, I think he’s going to play in the NFL.’ ”
Narduzzi watched a video to see what Dennis could do and later met him for the first time. As it turned out, Dennis was spending a post-graduate year at Peddie after playing quarterback at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, N.Y., where he missed his senior year with an Achilles tear.
“If that kid plays his senior year, we might not touch him at CBA,” Narduzzi said. “This guy is available because of an injury. We fell into this one.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .