State Of The Program Address

Even though the Pitt football program took several hits since recording its best regular-season record in some 25 years, Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt was rather jovial and certainly optimistic during a lengthy discussion with media concerning the current camps, recruiting and the upcoming season.

Wannstedt, going into his fifth season as the Pittsburgh head coach, guided the Panthers to a 9-3 regular-season mark in 2008, a second-place finish in the Big East and the first post-season game in his tenure. However, a stunning 3-0 loss in the Sun Bowl, player suspensions in the spring, two subsequent dismissals, several other players with legal issues after that and some local recruiting misses somewhat tarnished that regular season.

At least there was a perception that the Pitt football program was in disarray, but that apparently hasn't deterred Wannstedt. The veteran coach's comments were as positive as ever on various topics, especially recruiting, which has been a hot topic in recent weeks.

"Nothing has changed for us,'' Wannstedt said. "The last three years, at this time of the year, I probably have felt good about 40 players that I was comfortable saying they had a scholarship to Pitt. Right now, we're at 75 (offers). So, we're further ahead with this year's recruiting with quality names at every position than we've had since I've been here.

"We've had more players come through here (for visits) than we've ever had, and we're further ahead from an evaluation standpoint. So, we're going to have not a good class, but a great class. There's no doubt about that, but we're banging heads (with other schools). We're probably going to get some kids who don't have other offers, but the key is to get kids that you believe in.''

Wannstedt pointed out that sophomore safety Andrew Taglianetti, a part-time player on passing downs and special teams ace as a freshman last fall, initially was Pitt's lowest-rated player in the 2008 class. He was supposed to take a gray shirt, but eventually was awarded a scholarship and surpassed everyone's expectations last season.

Other low-rated players from recent classes include defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus, but both have developed to where they could be high draft picks in the NFL in two years. Who knows who that player will be in the 2010 recruiting class or where he'll come from before arriving at Pitt? Some believe the Panthers should dominate the WPIAL, basically its back yard, and Wannstedt discussed his line of thinking when he arrived in 2005.

"The first year we got here, we had to re-establish, in my mind, that we were going to get in there and throw (recruiting) punches with Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and West Virginia,'' Wannstedt said. "And if there was a kid that we wanted, we weren't going to shy away from him.

"And I think we've gotten our share. So, I think we're right where we need to be. And I feel better about this class coming up than I did the last two. The key is to get a few of those top guys, wherever you can get them, and then hit on those bottom 10 guys or so, the ones who aren't as highly ranked.''

Wannstedt noted that Pitt's primary recruiting competition for local kids are Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State, but he proudly stated that "nobody from the Big East comes in here and threatens us,'' he said.

Sixth-year senior Adam Gunn and sophomore Jonathan Baldwin still have legal issues pending from offseason incidents, so their status hasn't changed. And neither has Wannstedt's stand on the topic.

"We're disappointed that those discipline things happen, but you all know that I won't tolerate anything like that,'' Wannstedt said. "(But) I believe we have great kids who made some mistakes, but they'll be dealt with accordingly. And we'll move forward. Unfortunately, when you have an incident when someone makes a mistake, you have to use that as an example.

"And you hope that it not only teaches that individual a lesson, but the rest of the members of our football team learn from someone's mistake. ... I also try to have our players learn from the mistakes players make at other universities. And I'll keep talking about it. Overall, our players have been very good, and they're doing a lot for the community.''

Pitt still has higher expectations than usual according to preseason national and Big East rankings. There are several early top-25 polls which include Pitt, and the Panthers are rated among the top teams in their Conference as well.

"We have enough players on this football team that have had a taste of winning,'' Wannstedt said. "We were one game out of winning the Big East last year. That's fresh on our players' minds going into this season.

"I believe our Conference is going to be (up for grabs), for the most part, and that's incentive for our players and coaches that we can go out there and compete with anyone.''

"You don't stick your head in the said or run from expectations, but you also don't want to go out there and get ahead of yourself,'' Wannstedt added.

Pitt opens the regular season against Youngstown State Sept. 5 at Heinz Field.

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