Gattuso Secures Pitt's Backyard

When Dave Wannstedt returned to his alma mater as the head football coach he vowed to re-establish Pitt's presence in the program's backyard, the WPIAL, an area with a rich and talented history supplying players to the Panthers.

Wannstedt and his staff have steadily increased the WPIAL's profile on the Pittsburgh team each season, and the Panthers signed seven players from the area in this his fourth year.

Greg Gattuso, Pitt's assistant head coach in charge of the defensive line, is the primary recruiter in Western Pennsylvania.

"Two years ago, we signed more WPIAL guys, but the talent pool was deeper,'' Gattuso said. "We have the same percentage of kids, but not as many this year. And we'll continue to work at it. We try to get one coach every year to every school, whether they have a player or not, and I recruit some in Johnstown, too. But it's crucial to our success to do well at home.''

Pitt signed 10 players from its home state, including tight end Brock DeCicco from Thomas Jefferson High School in Jefferson Hills, Pa.; middle linebacker Dan Mason from Penn Hills HS in Pittsburgh, wideout Todd Thomas from Beaver Falls, Pa. HS; wideout Ed Tinker from Brashear HS in Pittsburgh; offensive tackle Ryan Schlieper from North Allegheny HS in Wexford, Pa.; offensive tackle Juantez Hollins from Aliquippa, Pa. HS; and defensive end Tyrone Ezell from Steel Valley HS in Munhall, Pa. from the WPIAL.

Gattuso includes Cory King in the mix because the offensive tackle is from Lakeview HS in Stoneboro, Pa., just a short drive north from Pittsburgh.

"We're graduating (three) tight ends next year, and I think Brock is as good as any tight end in the country,'' Wannstedt said. "Ryan Schlieper was a player that we've been recruiting all along, and we're going to need some help on the offensive line. Todd Thomas may be the most athletic player in the state.

"We're going to start him off at wide receiver, but who knows where he'll end up. Tyrone Ezell and Juantez Hollins, both of these guys are big (and) can run. We're going to start Hollins off on offense. We think he'll make a great offensive tackle. These big guys are guys you'd like to develop and coach.''

Wannstedt also detailed stories how Mason attended the first day of a summer camp and after the other big-name players went home, he returned for more workouts on the second day. Mason and his Penn Hills team also attended Pitt's passing camp later last summer, so he was heavily involved with the Panthers.

Another player like that was Tinker, who attended the passing camp in 2007.

"Ed Tinker came to our pass camp, and he made plays,'' Wannstedt said. "I grabbed him after, and I told him that we wanted him here at Pitt. He didn't qualify academically, so he went to prep school in North Carolina. And now, he's qualified and with us. He's another player that will be versatile.''

So, while Pitt did well in its backyard, there also were some failings. Ohio State, which nabbed Jeannette's Terrell Pryor the year before, came into the WPIAL this year and snatched his teammate, tailback Jordan Hall, as well linebacker Dorian Bell and Corey Brown from Gateway HS in Monroeville.

Penn State has always been Pitt's competition in-state, especially in Central and Eastern Pa., but the Nittany Lions did real well in Maryland this year and added West Mifflin, Pa. HS lineman Adam Gress to their 2009 class well well.

"We understand that our big fight in Western Pa. is going to be with Penn State and Ohio State,'' Gattuso said. "They're both a similar distance away, and they're great programs. So, they're going to win some battles, but we believe we'll still get most of the good players.

"And I believe the guys we got this year are excellent. I wouldn't trade them for anybody. We'd like to get everybody, but that's never going to happen. But we'll keep trying, and for kids in this area Pitt is high on their lists even if they also include those other schools.

"The talent is here, and it's usually pretty deep,'' Gattuso added. "It wasn't as deep this year, but very talented. And next year, I believe it's going to be a lot deeper. So, hopefully, we'll continue to reap the benefits of getting the bulk of those players. I believe we'll keep it up.''

Pitt already has targeted some WPIAL players for its 2010 class. That group includes wideout Kevin Weatherspoon from Clairton, Pa. HS; tight end Andrew Carswell from Sto-Rox HS in McKees Rocks, Pa.; offensive lineman Miles Dieffenbach from Fox Chapel, Pa. HS; cornerback Cullen Christian from Penn Hills HS in Pittsburgh; and his teammate, wideout-safety Brandon Ifill.

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