Pitt-WPIAL Have Strong Ties

The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) has been a hotbed for talented athletes for years, so it's no surprise that the University of Pittsburgh football program has mined the area for talent from the outset.

Together the two have combined to produce several Hall of Famers and numerous National Football League players. The current Pittsburgh team has a strong WPIAL influence on both sides of the ball, and its 2008 recruiting class includes some of the WPIAL's best.

"Our coaches and our staff have done a good job,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We've made an impact in Western Pennsylvania, but ... we've gone into the central part of the state and the East as well. ... We have had good results in the entire state, but there's no question that the WPIAL has been strong.''

On defense, the Panthers' starting linebacking corps of Scott McKillop, Adam Gunn and Shane Murray all attended WPIAL schools. McKillop, who led the nation in tackles last year, went to Kiski Area with Gunn, while Murray guided Central Catholic as its quarterback. Some other Pitt defensive players from the WPIAL include tackle Mick Williams from Monessen, tackle Craig Bokor from Hopewell, tackle Myles Caragein from Keystone Oaks, end Justin Hargrove from Baldwin, linebacker Brandon Lindsey from Aliquippa, linebacker Nate Nix from Thomas Jefferson, linebacker Dan Loheyde from Gateway and safeties Dom DeCicco from Thomas Jefferson and Elijah Fields from Duquesne.

"It's great playing alongside Adam, who I've played football with since we were kids,'' McKillop said. "But it's also nice to be teammates with guys who we played against in high school in the WPIAL.''

Some players on offense for Pitt include quarterback Bill Stull, who played for Seton-LaSalle. He is joined by tight end Dorin Dickerson from West Allegheny, tight end John Pelusi from Pittsburgh Central Catholio, lineman John Bachman from Moon, guard C.J. Davis from West Allegheny, tackle Jason Pinkston from Baldwin, guard Chris Jacobson from Keystone Oaks, wideout Aaron Smith from Gateway, quarterback Kevan Smith from Seneca Valley and guard John Malecki from Franklin Regional.

Also, place-kicker Conor Lee, a Lou Groza Award candidate, is an Upper St. Clair grad, while punter Dave Brytus played for West Allegheny and long-snapper Mark Estermyer graduated from Blackhawk.

Wannstedt, in his fourth season at his alma mater, also is WPIAL product. And the Baldwin High School grad has made it a priority to recruit the best players from Pitt's backyard each year. The Panthers' 2008 recruiting class has a strong regional representation, as nine out of the 19 signees attended WPIAL high schools. That group includes U.S. Army All-Americans Jonathan Baldwin (Aliquippa), Shayne Hale (Gateway) and Lucas Nix (Thomas Jefferson. Others from the WPIAL include Cam Saddler from Gateway, Tino Sunseri and Andrew Taglianetti from Central Catholic, Mike Shanahan from Baldwin, Manny Williams from Clairton and Ryan Turnley from Hopewell.

The WPIAL's influence is also evident in the NFL, as several recent Pitt players have made the transition from college. Shawntae Spencer, a Woodland Hills graduate, played at Pitt for four years and helped anchor a strong secondary. Spencer now plays cornerback and special teams for the San Francisco 49ers.

Darrelle Revis, a star athlete at Aliquippa, played for the Panthers from 2004-06 and established himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Revis was drafted in the first round in 2007 by the New York Jets and is a starting cornerback.

Tyler Palko, a former West Allegheny and Pitt quarterback, found a home with the New Orleans Saints in 2007. He was signed to the active roster for the last game of the season and recently signed a two-year contract.

Several former Pitt and WPIAL players ended spectacular careers with induction into the National Football Hall of Fame. Tony Dorsett is a Hopewell High School graduate and first-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys. He was the catalyst for the Panthers' 1976 National Championship run while winning the Maxwell, Walter Camp and Heisman Trophy that season. Dorsett was inducted into the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame 1994.

Dan Marino attended Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School, played for the Panthers from 1979-82 and was a first-round pick for the Miami Dolphins. His shinning moment at Pitt came in the 1982 Sugar Bowl when he led the Panthers to a comeback win against Georgia. Marino was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Mike Ditka attended Aliquippa High School. While at Pitt, he started all three years and led the Panthers in receiving each season. He also served as the team's punter. Ditka played for the Chicago Bears, which he later coached to a Super Bowl win, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

The Pitt Media Relations Department contributed to this story.

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