Pitt Announces 20-Player Recruiting Class

For the second straight year, Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt has held his national letter-of-intent day press conference inside the Panthers' locker room, and that made for a nice atmosphere to announce the 2009 recruiting class.

However, that didn't change its Big East ranking, believed by some to be trailing West Virginia, Rutgers and maybe even South Florida in the eight-team league. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh secured 20 players for this fall's team, and Wannstedt had nothing but positive comments.

"Overall, I'm pleased,'' Wannstedt said. "I think we filled some needs, from the standpoint of players that were graduating and building good depth, and then venturing out into some other areas that will be even better for us as the years go on. ... I really believe we did a nice job with that.''

It was no surprise that 10 players in the class came from Pitt's home state, including seven players from the WPIAL, basically the Panthers' backyard. The WPIAL players are tight end Brock DeCicco from Thomas Jefferson High School in Jefferson Hills, Pa.; defensive end Tyrone Ezell from Steel Valley HS in Munhall, Pa.; offensive tackle Juantez Hollins from Aliquippa, Pa. HS; middle linebacker Dan Mason from Penn Hills HS in Pittsburgh; offensive tackle Ryan Schlieper from North Allegheny HS in Wexford, Pa.; wideout Todd Thomas from Beaver Falls, Pa. HS; and wideout Ed Tinker from Brashear HS in Pittsburgh and North Carolina Tech Prep in Charlotte.

The other Pennsylvania players are defensive end Jack Lippert from Central Dauphin HS in Harrisburg, offensive tackle Cory King from Lakeview HS in Stoneboro, Northwestern, Pa. and wideout Devin Street from Liberty High School in Bethlehem. Pitt assistant head coach Greg Gattuso is the chief recruiter in the WPIAL.

"For us to be a successful program, we have to continue to recruit the WPIAL heavily every year,'' Gattuso said. "We got about 12 kids last year and eight this year. I count Cory King, because he's not too far north from here. So, the numbers will change depending on depth in the area, but we'll always work hard in this area and Pennsylvania overall.''

The Panthers also hit New Jersey harder than ever and secured five recruits from there, which was the most for the program in more than two decades. Pitt secondary coach Jeff Hafley, in his first recruiting season on the staff after two as a graduate assistant, head-mans Pitt's efforts in New Jersey.

Hafley's group included safety Kevin Adams from St. Joseph Regional HS in Montvale, N.J., running back Ray Graham from Elizabeth, N.J. HS; cornerback Jason Hendricks from Hudson Catholic Regional HS in Jersey City, N.J.; running back Dion Lewis from Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J.; and defensive tackle Bernardo Nunez from Hoboken, N.J. HS. Lewis graduated early from high school and already is enrolled at Pitt. He will practice with the team this spring.

"We have a solid group from New Jersey this year,'' Hafley said. "I believe all these kids will help us at some point, and Dion could make an immediate impact this spring since he's already enrolled. We did really well in New Jersey this year, and now that I've been at it for a year I hope to do better next year.''

Pitt also signed two players from Florida -- running back Jason Douglas and middle linebacker Shane Gordon from Cypress Bay HS in Weston, Fla. -- and one each from New York -- offensive tackle Fernando Diaz from Cardinal Hayes HS in the Bronx; Maryland -- safety Carl Fleming from Franklin HS in Reistertown; and Texas -- quarterback Kolby Gray from Cypress Falls in Houston.

"Last year, we decided not to over-recruit Florida, but we want to get 2-3 players each year,'' Wannstedt said. "So, we were able to do that.''

Wannstedt noted that his general rule is to recruit no further than a five-hour drive from the Pitt campus. Florida obviously has been an exception to the rule, but Texas just blows it away. Still, the Panthers believe they needed a quarterback and scoured the country for one. That search, as well as defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's connections, led to Gray's recruitment.

"We were looking for a certain type of quarterback and just didn't have one in the other recruiting areas that we felt as good about as him,'' Wannstedt said, referring to Gray's equal ability to either run or throw the ball. However, that does not mean the Panthers are changing their offensive philosophy.

"When things break down, having a quarterback who can make plays with his feet, can help,'' Wannstedt added. "(But) we're not going to go to the read-zone offense, and we're not going to go to the option. But rather than (have) minus-400 yards in sacks ... finding a guy who can do both was a challenge.''

Pitt begins spring practice in less than six weeks.

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