Pitt-Rutgers: The Recruiting War, Part 1

This week, we'll examine how Pitt and Rutgers have had many battles in recent years on the recruiting trail.

Both Pitt and Rutgers have had some battles for recruits over the years. What's interesting, is that on both sides, a lot of coveted recruits have either fizzled out, didn't live up to the hype or have yet to live up to the hype. A number of lesser known recruits that were recruited by both schools have hit some bright spots early on, including a couple current members of each team.

This week, we'll break it down and take a look at some of the matchups that make this a rivalry game for both schools.

It started for Pitt with the 2007 recruiting class. Dave Wannstedt wanted to make it a mission of his to get back into the New Jersey. It wasn't an overnight process, but one recruit that the Panthers were able to get was Shariff Harris. Harris fit that mold of a power back, that believe it or not in 2006, Pitt was looking for. The Panthers were on a mission to find someone who could run for 1,000 yards in a season. Since then, the last four running backs to line up in the backfield are now all in the NFL.

Harris was one of the first players from New Jersey to garner some Pitt interest. He did not have a Rutgers offer. Despite Pitt getting involved later in the recruiting process—December of his senior year, to be exact—Harris chose the Panthers. He also came in with other running backs Greg Williams (running back at the time) and LeSean McCoy. Harris redshirted in his first year, and while he did show promise early, battled things such as an indefinite suspension. He amicably departed Pitt, where he wound up at Southern Illinois after the 2008 season. He led the Salukis in 2010 in rushing (604 yards, 32 attempts) and had a season-high of 37 carries in a game. He is currently a senior there, where he has six carries for 20 yards in four games.

As Pitt was finally able to get in to some New Jersey schools—something that Jeff Hafley helped with greatly—they started competing with Rutgers for recruits. Unfortunately, they were losing out on a lot of these battles. One of the earliest battles since the two schools started battling for recruits, was for safety prospect Duron Harmon.

Harmon leads Rutgers with three interceptions, followed by David Rowe and senior defensive back Wayne Warren. Warren was a high school quarterback coming out of Maryland who had some Pitt interest; the possibility of a Pitt offer. It never materialized, as the Salisbury native chose the Scarlet Knights. He has one interception so far this season as a reserve defensive back.

Harmon had an offer from Pitt, and had a very good unofficial visit to Pittsburgh in June of 2008.

"As of right now, this is crazy,'' Harmon said after his visit to Pitt that year. "Everything here is top-notch. The facilities, everything around here, the fields, and just walking into the building ... it's all great. And it's a city atmosphere. That's where I want to be when I go to college."

That changed just a few days later, as Harmon committed to Rutgers—a commit that shocked the Pitt coaching staff.

"It was always between Pittsburgh and Rutgers, but I just never said anything about it to anybody because I wanted it private," Harmon said after making his decision. "Today when I talked to Head Coach Greg Schiano the things he was saying to me really made me commit to them. He was telling me how he has a vision for the team and that he is working toward his goal on visions from God. He wants players coming to represent the school well and as a young man full of faith, I really want to play for a coach that has a strong belief as well."

Based on his value to the Rutgers defense, it's safe to say that Harmon made the right call—a move that has put him in position as the Big East's leader in interceptions so far this season.

Rutgers continued to strike while the Iron was hot. They got Virginia running back De'Antwan Williams later on in December. He recently decided to transfer out of Rutgers, after having played in two games this season. Still, Williams saw a significant role as a true freshman—lining up at running back in the ‘Wildcat' formation, and even playing some receiver. He played in six games in both of his first two years, and was even awarded the team's most improved player award after this past spring. With Jawan Jamison handling the workload this season, and freshman Savon Huggins getting in the mix, Williams simply got lost in the shuffle.

Rashad White—a member of the Scarlet Knights' 2008 class—had a Pitt offer. He was a close friend of former Pitt receiver Oderick Turner. White never made it to Rutgers. He did not qualify academically, and after a couple of attempts through junior college, never resurfaced on a I-A roster.

Pitt struck gold in 2009 luring two New Jersey running backs in Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. Lewis is now with the Philadelphia Eagles, after just two years at Pitt. Lewis only had an offer from Tulane, in addition to his Pitt offer, before committing to the Panthers in June of 2008. Graham was the more heralded of the two running backs—choosing the Panthers over a Rutgers offer. Interestingly, his brother Khaseem Greene decided to stay in-state with the Scarlet Knights.

"Not everybody gets a chance to play against their oldest brother," Graham said. "It's going to be exciting."

Proudly, both Graham and Greene are the focal points of their respective sides of the ball—Greene the leading tackler for Rutgers, Graham the leading rusher for Pitt. Greene redshirted after graduating in 2008. He led the team in interceptions in 2009—a year where both he and Graham were freshmen. He led the team in tackles last season, starting all 12 games as a free safety. This year, he moves to linebacker where he also leads the team in tackles. It's similar to Graham in a sense, as he leads Pitt in rushing after moving into the every-down back role this season.

Rutgers got the best of the defensive players, adding Greene and Harmon in 2008 and 2009, respectively. The Panthers got their two running backs—who have filled in admirably after the record-setting career of McCoy. They also added Jason Hendricks in 2009. Hendricks was rated the No. 148 corner in the country that year, but has been a mainstay for Pitt's defense since coming on board.

"I know a lot of people from that team," Graham added, citing just how these two teams have become familiar with each other thanks to the recruiting process. "Probably a little trash-talking on the field, but it's all love, though."

Already, with the 2007, 2008 and 2009 classes, we've seen a number of heralded prospects pan out, and some that didn't pan out. The ones who did pan out will be on display this Saturday.

Tomorrow, we look at how the Scarlet Knights had a tight end coup in 2009 when Pitt was having to think about a life after Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson. We'll also look at a key turning point in the battle between both schools, following a 2009 recruiting war that was won by Rutgers.

Khaseem Greene (RUTGERS): 25 career games, 17 career starts; 144 tackles, 7 TFL, 5 INT

Duron Harmon (RUTGERS): 28 career games, 5 career starts (four in 2011); 43 tackles, 3 INT for 82 yards (all in 2011)
Ray Graham (PITT): 30 career games, 7 career starts (5 in 2011); 335 carries, 2,005 yards, 20 TD
Jason Hendricks (PITT): 18 career games, 10 career starts; 68 tackles, 1 INT, 6 PBU

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