When it comes to the Pitt program, one of the things that Todd Graham has talked about since he was hired in January, was how he believes in having a faith-oriented program. One recruit that it struck in particular is Cincinnati (OH) St. Xavier offensive lineman Brandyn Cook. Cook committed to the Panthers on Friday.
St. Xavier—a national powerhouse when it comes to high school football—also bases itself as a faith-oriented program. That's why when Pitt came calling with an offer on Wednesday following Cook's performance at camp last Saturday, it didn't take too long for him to decide that Pitt was the right place for him.
"Really, just the first time Coach Graham addressed the camp, I could tell what kind of guy he was," Cook said. "Without fear, he told a group of 200 campers that Pitt is a faith-based institution. That's what St. Xavier is. I'm really big on that. They have a family atmosphere, they all want to work hard."
When Cook came in for the camp last Saturday, it was his first exposure to the Pitt campus. He had previously been recruited by assistant coach Tony Dews, who initially recruited him while he was at Michigan. Cook came and camped last Saturday, then was offered Wednesday. Even then, it didn't take too much—after just one visit and one impression of Pitt—to make up his mind.
"I really like (offensive line) coach (Spencer) Leftwich a lot," Cook said. "He's one of those old school kind of guys—doesn't talk a whole lot, but when he does, he's one of those tough as nails kind of guys.
"I went up to coach Graham's office after camp, and he told me later they probably would have offered me after camp. He called my head coach (Steve Specht) on Wednesday to tell me they were offering. The whole coaching staff met and agreed to offer me."
In addition to the faith-based atmosphere of the program, Cook values academics. In his short time getting an impression of the program, he felt that Pitt has what he's looking for in that area. Facilities came up a little bit, but again, he only needed that one little bit of exposure he got on Saturday.
"I had a pretty ACT score, and I have a 4.0, these are things I like to do," Cook said. "I went up there, visited the academics. The people that will work with you are amazing. You talk to the coaches, and they are awesome. Everyone is hugs; they're hugging my little brother. We had a nine-hour visit (Friday). We went to Heinz Field, and you're awestruck by that. It's first class. Everything felt right, so I just went ahead and (committed). Now, I can focus on my senior season."
St. Xavier is a nationally-recognized program. When comparing his routines—even his offseason conditioning—he saw some similar things in the way they are run at Pitt. That only added to it.
"It's a faith-based program," Cook added. "There are coaches that will love you; something that really struck me with them. It's a highly successful-program. There's one way to do things, and that's how they're doing it up there.
"I'm used to big games every week. We don't have a team on our schedule that's easy. Every team we play, it's something we have to play for. Everyone wants to beat us. It's the same thing as college. We're playing playoff games at (University of Cincinnati) in front of 35,000 people. We've played on ESPN two or three times a year. This stuff helps you mature better. Not a lot of high-schoolers get that opportunity. At the same time, we work on a whole other level. Four days a week, we're up at six in the morning, since January. Everything they do—hard work, family and faith—are three things I value. They do the same at Pitt too."
Cook took over as a starting center in his sophomore year, where he played alongside the late Matt James—a former Notre Dame commit who passed away prior to starting school with the Irish. He started the final two regular season games and both playoff games that year. Last year as a junior, he went on to earn all-conference honors, was all-southeast Ohio and earned honorable mention all-city honors.