It's been an emotional week for Pitt commit James Conner. The Erie (PA) McDowell standout saw his high school career come to an end in a loss to North Allegheny in the PIAA quarterfinals.
Then, Conner had his in-home visit with Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and linebackers coach Chris Haering. If there was any lull from knowing his high school career was over, it wasn't apparent as the visit from Rudoloh and Haering sounded pretty upbeat.
"It went real good," Conner said. "I talked to Coach Rudolph and Coach Haering on the phone. It's real comfortable to talk to them. It's always a good time. We can talk about football. We can talk about other stuff."
As a senior, Conner rushed for 1,680 yards (10.8 avg) with 21 touchdowns, helping his team to a 7-6 record. He also finished with 12 sacks on defense, and an average of over 27 yards a kickoff return.
These numbers would be impressive for any prospect. The level of Conner's competition this season adds to it. McDowell didn't play a typical District X schedule, or WPIAL schedule. Head coach Mark Soboleski went outside the area and got some of the top perennial programs form out of state or region to play his team--Lakewood (OH) St. Edward, Cleveland (OH) St. Ignatius, Lancaster (PA) Catholic and Youngstown (OH) Cardinal Mooney just to name a few.
At first, Conner realized the tough schedule would help his team prepare and get better from week to week. Now, verbally committed to Pitt, he feels the schedule can help him be better prepared for the next level.
"We had one of the most challenging schedules in the state, every week it was a different powerhouse," Conner said. "Our coach scheduling that type of competition, that definitely helps out. I'm sure it will be tougher in college, but this will help."
His numbers, and what he can do in multiple aspects of the game, led to an interesting discussing with both Rudolph and Haering. It wasn't about Rudolph and Haering--an offensive and defensive coach already fighting about what side of the ball Conner will be on. It might be a matter of playing both.
"That's something we brought up," Conner said. "I went down to the prospect camp, and they offered me on the spot. I worked out with the defensive ends, and I kept blowing past the offensive linemen. They offered me right there.
"After seeing what I did on offense, on my film, (running backs) coach (Desmond) Robinson came up to one of our practice, and he liked what I did on offense. He said I could start off at running back, then maybe come in on defense on third down as a defensive end. Either way, we're talking things out, and we'll see what we roll with.
Of course, the links between head coach Paul Chryst and the Wisconsin vacancy were a big topic everywhere this week. Conner said he had no doubts that Chryst would end up staying at Pitt. He feels he's got a loyal head coach, and a set of loyal recruits coming in for the 2013 recruiting class.
"Him staying shows how much he believes in us," Conner said. "When you have a loyal coach, you get loyal recruits.
"We're a close class because the coaches stay on us. When Coach Rudolph calls, he's talking about building something here. I talk to Tony Harper, Luke Maclean, Dorian Johnson, Zach Challingsworth all the time. We're excited about being in the ACC, and we're the class that wants to start it off."
Conner also said he hasn't set an official visit date yet, though it will most likely be in January, on a weekend when several committed prospects will be in. He said he might make it in for a bowl practice, as long as his basketball schedule is clear. Conner goes right from football to basketball season, with a game Friday night.