Pitt Fills Needs In PA

Thanks to signing 19 new recruits Wednesday, the Pitt football team should be deeper and more talented than its been in Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt's previous three seasons, and that primarily was accomplished by hammering the high schools in Pennsylvania.

Wannstedt signed 14 players from his home state, including 13 all-state performers, to bolster the Pittsburgh depth chart for the next few years.

"Our coaches and our staff have done a good job,'' Wannstedt said. "We've made an impact in Western Pennsylvania, but ... we've gone into the central part of the state to get guys like Aaron Berry, Shady McCoy, Pat Bostick and Greg Gaskins, who will play this year.

"(And) getting Jarred Holley out of Easton, Pa. was big for us, just to get out there in that part of the state and get the top player in that area in our opinion. So, I would say, the state of Pennsylvania, we've made a concentrated effort there, and we've had some good results.''

Western Pennsylvania, in particular, has been good to Pitt with U.S. Army Game All-Americans Shayne Hale, a middle linebacker from Gateway High School in Monroeville; offensive tackle Lucas Nix from Thomas Jefferson HS in Jefferson Hills; and wideout Jonathan Baldwin from Aliquippa HS leading the way. But those weren't the only key recruits from Pitt's back yard.

Hale's high school teammate, wideout and kick return specialist Cam Saddler might be the fastest Panthers player this year. He also set off a recruiting coup by committing just a few days after Pitt upset West Virginia. The Panthers got six verbals in about a week after that, and Saddler helped as much as the win.

"Cam Saddler, when he committed and knew he was going to be here, he was bound and determined,'' Wannstedt said. "He was calling the Jonathan Baldwins and other guys, guys he was going to be competing with. He wants to have the best football team and be on the best team that it can possibly be. So, that's the type of attitude you want from players.''

Pitt also recruited to specific needs with this class after being painfully thin there last fall. With Chris Vangas graduating, the Panthers needed a center and brought in Robb Houser from Butte College in California. Houser is already enrolled at Pitt and will be involved in spring drills. Getting him on campus early most assuredly will benefit his development.

"We've never been as deep and as talented as we're going to be next year,'' Pitt assistant head coach Greg Gattuso said. "The depth of the talent is as important as anything. Sure, you can have some top guys, but if you don't have backups that can step in and play, it hurts you.

"And injuries will kill you, but I think this team can handle some injuries. And if we can get lucky that way, who knows what will happen. We have a chance to really compete more this season.''

Another junior-college recruit, quarterback Greg Cross from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, fills a specific need there because he helps fortify a position decimated by injuries. Cross has also been enrolled since January and will participate this spring. Pitt also signed Tino Sunseri, whose father, Sal, was a star linebacker from 1979-81 with the Panthers.

Pat Bostick, a freshman last fall, redshirt frosh Kevan Smith and junior Bill Stull, who started the season-opener but injured his thumb in the first half and was redshirted, will also be competing for the starting job. And it's that depth, albeit inexperienced, that will benefit Pitt greatly once the competition plays out.

"Our most experienced quarterback is Pat,'' Wannstedt said. "Billy got hurt in the first game, so he's going to have to go out there and prove himself. So, it's a wide-open competition. We're going to give Billy a shot. Pat's going to get a shot, and obviously Kevan Smith and the young kids. So, it's an open competition, but ... it's going to be interesting.''

Wannstedt noted that Cross gives Pitt the athleticism at the position that the Panthers haven't had there in years. With Cross at the helm, Pitt won't have to run McCoy out of the Wildcat formation all the time. Cross can be used and either run or throw out of it. McCoy basically just had a run option.

"It's going to take him some time, but there can be some packages that we can use with Greg,'' Wannstedt said. "So, (coordinator) Matt Cavanaugh and our offensive coaches are going to have to do a good job giving him what he can handle and ... see how he can help our football team.''

What he mostly provides Pitt with is depth at quarterback, and that was lacking last season. It was also lacking on the offensive line, but the Panthers recruited tackles Nix and Ryan Turnley from Hopewell, Pa. HS to shore up that need. Several players were redshirted last year on the offensive line, and they should make an impact as well.

One area that wasn't covered is defensive line, but Wannstedt believed that the Panthers are set there this season.

"We signed 16 defensive linemen the past three years,'' Wannstedt said, "so, we feel that we're three-deep there. (And) we've already talked about next year's class, junior recruiting, and defensive line will be a priority next year. We'll need to go out and get some guys.''

And if this year's recruiting class is an indication, Wannstedt and Pitt should look to Pennsylvania to fill that need as well.

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