The Scarlet Knights were the team to beat for tight ends Paul Carrezola, Malcolm Bush and D.C. Jefferson. Pitt was not in the Jefferson sweepstakes for the 2008 recruiting class, had an offer to Carrezola but with little interest, and was very close to landing Bush. Jefferson was a big get out of the state of Florida, had some SEC interest, and is a former high school quarterback. Similar to Dickerson, he's moved over to tight end to provide some athleticism.
Carrezola, similar to Byham—more of the true tight end—did have a Pitt offer, but ended his recruitment towards the end of his junior season, committing to Rutgers in May of 2008. In the days leading up to signing day in 2009, Bush considered the Panthers a favorite. North Carolina and Rutgers were his other finalists. An official visit on the final weekend before signing day put Rutgers over the top for Bush.
As for their careers at Rutgers, Bush redshirted in 2009. He played in one game in 2010, and has yet to resurface at the tight end position this year. Carrezola joins Jefferson as the other tight end, instead. He's played in all four games, with two starts. He's caught two passes for 19 yards and a touchdown. Frank Cignetti seems to be working with the tight ends similar to how he did with Byham and Dickerson in his first season as offensive coordinator—just two seasons ago.
Though Pitt was never in it with Carrezola, Bush was a player they desperately wanted for the 2009 class. He initially committed to Rutgers during the summer of his junior year, then backed off his commitment during his senior year. As signing day approached, it looked more and more like Bush was going to be a Panther. After an official visit in January of 2009, Pitt was the team to beat.
"Coach (Dave) Wannstedt, Coach (David) Walker and Coach (Jeff) Hafley came to my school to meet my coach and then came to my house to meet with my father and talk to him about Pittsburgh which was great," Bush told Scout.com after the visit. "They talked about the opportunity I would have to play after next year, told us about the environment at Pitt and spend time talking about the education I would receive and how they handle their student-athletes.
"It went really well and my father was impressed which was important to me because while I've been to Pittsburgh a few times, he's never seen it or met any of the coaches I have," Bush added. "I am thinking of taking another unofficial visit there this weekend. I just really like Coach Wannstedt and the rest of the staff, as well as the players and feel comfortable there."
Bush ended up taking an official visit to Rutgers just before signing day, where he decided to stay in-state and play for the Scarlet Knights.
"It was nice and I had a lot of fun," Bush told Scout.com of that visit. "From the scale of one to ten, I would give it a 10. Coach Schiano is a straight guy. We had a great relationship when I first committed and it had not changed."
Things didn't end up all bad for Pitt, though, at the tight end position. Dickerson and Byham graduated, and moved on the NFL. Even though Pitt had Mike Cruz learning the ropes from Dickerson and Byham that year as a redshirt freshman, they also signed Brock DeCicco in that class. Hubie Graham—who was recruited heavily by Pitt in the 2008 class—transferred in from Illinois in the spring of 2009. Pitt signed Ohio tight ends Dan Schneider and Brendan Carozzoni. Out of all those players, Graham and Carozzoni are the only ones still with the team. Both players have appeared in all five games, with Graham becoming a major focus of the passing game in his first year of play with the Panthers.
The Scarlet Knights landed a pair of defensive players that the Panthers coveted, as well, in Delaware twins Jamal and Jamil Merrill. They too took official visits to Pittsburgh, and liked the Pitt coaching staff all along. They chose Rutgers, and both redshirted in 2009. Jamal earned Big East Special Teams Player of the Week honors just this past week, after he blocked a field goal and an extra point in the win over Syracuse. He is second on the team behind Khaseem Greene with 22 tackles.
Rutgers scored big in that 2009 class, winning several big battles. However, they did not land running back Ray Graham in that class—who also had a Rutgers offer, nor did they offer Dion Lewis. While they had the numbers, and are starting to reap the benefits of that 2009 class—especially on defense—the Panthers secured a major commit out of New Jersey in June of 2009 that opened some major doors. That will be the subject of our focus tomorrow. Though it opened some doors—thanks to last December's coaching change—a lot of those recruits that Pitt worked so hard to get, ended up falling into the hands of the Scarlet Knights, after all.
D.C. Jefferson: 24 career starts, 18 receptions, 301 yards, TD; 2011 Mackey Award Watch List
Paul Carrezola: 16 career games (3 starts), 4 receptions, 37 yards
Hubie Graham: 5 games at Pitt, 2 starts; 15 receptions, 186 yards, 2 TD
Jamal Merrill: 4 career starts (all in 2011); second on team with 22 stops, team-best 3 blocked kicks