Jon Baldwin, Mike Shanahan and Cameron Saddler are Pitt's starting trio of receivers. Baldwin was thrown in the fire right away as a true freshman, with Shanahan and Saddler eventually joining the fold. This year is the first time that Pitt will heavily count on all three, at the same time.
All three players committed to Pitt, all around the same time in December of 2007. Saddler chose the Panthers on December 5, followed by Shanahan on December 9 and Baldwin the following day.
The players were close in commitment dates, but the players are close on and off the field. Even though Pitt lost a pair of seniors in Oderick Turner and Cedric McGee, it almost seems like the receiver position is better as a whole.
"We want to become more like brothers," Saddler said. "Last year, our receiving group was tight, nonetheless. There was still tension with guys who weren't playing, and some of the older guys. This year, what we want to do, is have each others' back, regardless of who is on the field, and who is not. ‘You see something that I'm doing, you let me know. If we can do all that, it will make us that much better."
Coming out of high school, Saddler was more heavily recruited than Shanahan. Saddler chose Pitt over offers from West Virginia, Virginia and Michigan. Shanahan initially was going to play basketball in college, but changed his mind, and decided to go for football. Coming out of Norwin--a neighboring district of Saddler's Gateway, who doesn't get the media attention Gateway gets, it was Shanahan who made the jump into the starting lineup first.
It may look that way on paper, but Saddler accepts his role--part of him referring to his receiving group as becoming more like brothers. Saddler doesn't backup Baldwin or Shanahan, nor will he challenge either for their starting positions. Instead, Saddler has a position created especially for him.
"I have a role on this team, I know my role," Saddler said. "I'm the guy who gets the ball, quick timing, it's my job to make people miss, and I'm all right with that. I play with guys who are 6-5, which helps me so much more, because I don't have to try to do anything that this 5-7 frame really isn't supposed to do. I'm perfectly fine with my role. I know Coach Cignetti is going to put me in a situation that's going to help me succeed, so I'm not really worried about it."
While Saddler feels comfortable having Shanahan and Baldwin around him, the feeling is mutual from their side. They all seem to know what one does, the other cannot or does not do.
"Basically, with the receivers we have, everyone brings a different dimension to our receiver corps," Baldwin said. "You got Cam Saddler, like a skat type of guy, that reverses and screens, and different things of that nature. Shanahan, he's a possession receiver. Me, a deep threat. It's pretty fun. Mike's a smart guy, very precise. We complement each other, help each other out a lot."
Shanahan didn't come to Pitt with as much hype as Baldwin and Saddler. He worked his way through the depth chart last season, making his first career start in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against North Carolina. He led the team with five catches for 83 yards, as Baldwin was limited to three receptions for 31 yards. Both Shanahan and Baldwin played AAU basketball together, and now look forward to starting at Pitt together.
"Baldwin, is being Baldwin," Shanahan said, referring to the junior receiver making plays. "We all know what we're going to get from him. Cam is running around making big plays himself.
"I've known (Baldwin) since freshman year in high school. That's when we started getting together. Our relationship is pretty tight. That's a good thing to have on the field, too. We've always been competing since we were back in ninth grade. The competition brings out the best in both of us. It is nice to have that chemistry when we're out there."
It's been awhile since they played a game of hoops, as the offseason conditioning routine doesn't allow for too many games of one-on-one.
"We haven't (played basketball against each other), probably since last year," Shanahan said. "He beat me."
Just three years ago, all three came here with all different sorts of hype. Baldwin had double the hype--he was the next great player from Aliquippa to come to Pitt, but also one of the most heavily-recruited receivers in the country. Saddler was the most heavily-recruited player to commit to Pitt, coming out of Gateway, and one that Pitt was happy to keep in the area. Shanahan was committed to another sport, and got his Pitt offer much later than his two classmates.
They may have come here with different levels of hype and expectations, but everything has pointed to the three of them being starters this season.
"It's like the Big 33 game all over again," Baldwin said. "You got me, Shanahan, Tino, Cam, and the other guys on defense. We've been playing with Tino for awhile.
"Bigger and better things could come this year," Shanahan added. "I kind of came out of nowhere, nobody really knew about me. I think Jon can be an All-American candidate. He's going to get the love and attention. I think whenever he does get double-teamed, we have me, Cam Saddler. We just have to make plays whenever they are to be made."
"We're all growing together, as a whole," Saddler said. "Besides JB, Mike contributed at the end of the year, but none of us have been major contributors in the offense. We're all just growing together, we'll learn every step of the way."