Pitt Recruiting In Florida

Does the Pitt football program still have sunshine on its mind or have the Panthers turned a cold shoulder toward Florida and its hotbed for scholastic talent as far as recruiting is concerned?

The truth is, while Pittsburgh only had one Florida player sign to this year's recruiting class, just two in 2007 and no verbal commitments so far for the 2009 group, the Panthers are still active in the Sunshine State. And it's not like their roster is void of players from there.

There currently are 14 players from Florida playing for Pitt, including 2007 signees defensive end Jabaal Sheard from Hollywood Hills, Fla. High School and cornerback Buddy Jackson from Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla. and linebacker Joe Trebitz from West Boca Raton, Fla. High School this year.

"With Coach (Charlie) Partridge leaving and me coming in, I'm from Florida and have a lot of ties there,'' linebackers coach Joe Tumpkin said. "So, it was natural for me to take over that area. It was an easy transition for me, because I already had a lot of connections down there from my past.''

Tumpkin hit Florida hard during three of the four recruiting weeks this past spring, so the Panthers certainly aren't de-emphasizing the area by any means.

"The reality is that we're trying to take the best players that we can, but we want to take care of our back yard first,'' Tumpkin said. "And we did very well in Western Pennsylvania. The entire state, really, was very good to us.

"We're working other areas very hard, too, but we know that we've had a tremendous amount of success in Florida. It's just that since we've been so successful in other areas the past couple years, we haven't had to go down there. But we keep looking hard in all our recruiting areas. That won't stop.''

Among the 14 Florida players on Pitt's roster are starting defensive ends Sheard and Greg Romeus (Coral Springs), starting defensive tackle Rashaad Duncan (Belle Glade) and starting fullback Conredge Collins (Miami). All three have a chance to be Big East all-stars this season.

The list also includes middle linebacker Steve Dell (Fort Lauderdale), defensive tackle Tommie Duhart (Belle Glade), cornerback Ricky Gary (Pahokee), Jackson, center Jared Martin (Davie), wideout Cedric McGee (Fort Lauderdale), defensive tackle Gus Mustakas (Cooper City), wideout T.J. Porter (Pahokee), Trebitz and outside linebacker Greg Williams (Naples).

Sheard was offered in May, before his senior season, but Pitt heard about him long before that and started recruiting him as a junior. Sheard didn't commit until signing day, but that took quite a while. He went out to think about it some more, and nobody could find him until about 4 p.m. when he faxed in his letter.

"I was still a baby, really, and I still didn't know if I wanted to leave home,'' Sheard said. "So, I had to go think about it a little more on signing day. What it came down to was that Pitt had the best to offer me as far as my education was concerned and football, and I really liked it.

"But I was still a little shaky about it. My mom came to me on signing day and told me that Pitt was my best choice, if I was to go away. I wasn't sure, but I did it. I was nervous when I got here, too, but my mom stayed up here for a day and that helped. After that, it was great.''

Sheard spoke to Panther Digest shortly after he arrived, as he joined Partridge to watch the teams at Pitt's annual passing camp. His mom hasn't seen him play in person yet, but that will change. She'll definitely be at the South Florida game Oct. 2, and Sheard is hopeful that she'll visit Pitt once as well.

The Romeus recruiting story has been well-documented. Partidge and about a dozen others at a coaching convention saw a video of Romeus playing basketball and couldn't believe how well he moved for his size. Then, picture all these coaches sprinting out of the room to call their head coaches and recruiting people to find out more information on Romeus. He had already committed to Central Florida, but visited Pitt the third week in January and obviously changed his mind.

Collins was offered as a junior, and he tried to commit to several big schools who also offered him like Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Miami and Penn State. However, their classes were full. Pitt found out and pressed harder. Partridge picked Collins up at the airport during a snowstorm less than two weeks before signing day, and he committed at the end of the visit.

Pitt had Duncan in for a camp as a junior and saw a 255-pound guy who could move around like a linebacker and offered immediately. Dell was a mid-year guy, and that was the attraction. He still hasn't panned out due to injuries, but had a solid camp as a middle linebacker.

Porter, Gary and Martin were offered as juniors and came in for the Notre Dame official visit game along with Dexter Davidson. They committed afterward. Pitt battled Florida for Duhart down to the wire. There were some grade issues that kept other schools away, but Pitt stayed on him and got him.

Mustakas clearly is the epitome of a Partridge sleeper. Indiana, Northwestern and Pitt were the schools vying for him, very under the radar, but the Panthers liked that he was athletic enough to play tight end and defensive end, a very unique combination. And Partridge's magic touch secured his commitment.

Williams was an Aubrey Hill find in Naples, but Pitt had him rated as the No. 1 running back as a junior. And the Panthers knew he could play linebacker or safety as well, and he ended up on the defensive side of the ball this year.

McGee came in during Oderick Turner's class as well, but wasn't rated as highly. He was recruited on potential, due to size and athleticism, and has turned out a lot better than some believed. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt is extremely high on him. McGee put on Pitt's hat on signing day over Minnesota.

Jackson was another find. He ran 4.3 at Pitt's camp and was the top cornerback there. Pitt offered, and he committed. And the Panthers held on as many other offers followed. He is a potential star for Pitt.

Trebitz was a guy that Pitt liked, but didn't know if it needed. The Panthers had Manny Williams in camp, liked him a lot, and he eventually committed. But Shayne Hale was an unknown until he came to a Pitt basketball game in January. Partridge and Paul Rhoads pushed to get Trebitz, and he committed.

So, there were Pitt stars from Florida in the past, some in the present and a few for the future who already are Panthers. There also are a handful of 2009 Florida players that Pitt is recruiting who also have interest in the Panthers.

That group includes three-star linebackers Brandin Hawthorne from Pahokee, Shane Gordon and Austin Gamble from Cypress Bay and two-star backer Norman Griffith from Pahokee. Pitt also is in with three-star running back Greg Pratt from Naples and two-star running back Jason Douglas from Cypress Bay.

So, while Pitt's recruiting efforts in Florida haven't been as strong the past two years, things still could be quite sunny for the Panthers in the future.

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