Pitt never wavered on Gaines
Billy Gaines knew that he wanted to go to Pitt from the moment it offered him a scholarship after his standout performance at their two-day passing camp last month. And not just because it was his only offer.
That the Panthers believed in the 5-foot-8, 168-pound receiver from Urbana High near Frederick, Md., was convincing enough. They were impressed with his 40-yard dash time, his sure hands and his gritty demeanor. They didn't hedge on his height or weight or try to buy time by asking for future game film.
'As soon as I left the camp, I was a big-time Pitt fan,' Gaines said. 'I loved the coaches and the way they treated me.'
But it wasn't until he received a letter from Florida on Monday that Gaines decided to commit to Pitt. Gaines wasn't fazed after reading the note - in which Steve Spurrier wrote that the Gators would be recruiting him - and contacted the Panthers' coaching staff to make his decision official.
'When I saw that and still liked Pitt,' Gaines said, 'I knew it was time to call.'
Gaines was a consensus all-state selection as a junior, when he caught 32 passes for 528 yards and six touchdowns and returned three punts for touchdowns in leading Urbana to its third consecutive Class 2A state title.
'He just will not accept not being able to catch the ball,' said Urbana coach Dave Carruthers, whose Hawks have won a state-record 38 consecutive games. 'And when he catches the ball, he's going to get you the first down. He has so much savvy. He knows what you need to get and makes the extra effort.'
Gaines is known for his strength and speed. He runs the 40 consistently in the 4.3-second range. His vertical jump is 36 inches and he owns the school record in the power clean at 285 pounds, bench-presses 250 and squats 325. Carruthers said that Gaines' determination is what makes him special.
'I'm focused and hungry,' said Gaines, who has a 3.5 grade-point average and scored 1,020 on the SAT. 'I want the ball more than anybody.'
Gaines made his reputation this spring after being timed in the 40 at 4.22 seconds at the Nike camp at Penn State. That his quarterback as a sophomore at Urbana, Zack Mills, is a redshirt freshman there didn't prompt the Lions to offer. Neither did strong showings at West Virginia or Virginia camps.
'Some say he's just too short,' Carruthers said. 'But nobody's going to outwork Billy Gaines.'
Gaines is Pitt's fourth recruit from the Class of 2002, joining West Allegheny quarterback Tyler Palko and defensive end Andy Alleman and placekicker David Abdul, both of Massillon, Ohio. They also will be joined by 2001 recruits in receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is attending Valley Forge Military Academy, and Pine-Richland tackle Jason Capizzi, who is expected to enroll in January.
Palko attended the Pitt camp with Gaines, and came away impressed.
'He's short but he catches everything you throw toward him,' Palko said. 'He's going to be another big boost for our recruiting class.'
Pitt loses New York DT
The Panthers' incoming recruiting class suffered a blow when defensive tackle Craig Akins of Webster, N.Y., asked to be released from his scholarship after deciding he doesn't want to play college football.
The 6-6, 305-pound Akins was rated the third-best prospect in New York by SuperPrep Magazine after recording 72 tackles and 13 sacks as a senior. He was considered one of the Panthers' top recruits from the Class of 2001.
But Akins had reservations about the regimented lifestyle of a college athlete after taking conditioning tests during a weekend at Pitt in the spring.
'We didn't know for a long time that he was agonizing over this decision,' said Sheryl Akins, Craig's mother. 'It's a full-time job to play college football. He had a real hard time with that. He had doubts and hoped they would go away when it came closer to (the start of camp).'
Akins, who wants to be a police officer, is involved in the Rochester police explorers' program and chose Pitt for its criminal justice program. He has enrolled at Monroe Community College, and doesn't intend to play football.
'He struggled because he really liked coaches (Bob) Junko and (Tom) Freeman and felt like he was letting them down,' Sheryl Akins said. 'They're still calling and trying to get him to change his mind.'