National Signing Day: Where does Pitt stand?

I don’t know what’s tougher to believe: that it’s been over a month since my last post, or that it took something like college football recruiting to break the skid. But since we’re here, might as well talk a little bit about Pitt…

It has already been documented that my prediction about Pitt’s BCS bowl berth within five years from the day Dave Wannstedt was hired fell just a couple points against Cincinnati short of coming true, but there’s no reason to think it can’t happen within the next four years. That is, if you know anything about the recruiting class Wannstedt has collected for next season.

It’s no secret that one of the reasons I was a fan of the ‘Stache’s hiring in Oakland was his desire to establish a local recruiting base. He considers western Pennsylvania a football hotbed and wants to take advantage of the deep talent pool that collects from year to year. This year, he’s taking that concept to the bank, snatching up some of the area’s top-tier talent. Here’s the list of local players you will see in blue and gold next year:

With Aaron Donald and Khaynin Mosley-Smith on the way, Pitt's defensive line should be well-stocked for the next few years

Drew Carswell, WR, Sto-Rox (6’5″, 215): A good combination of size, speed, and skill, and he’s already pretty well-built to take some punishment. He played linebacker on defense and his solid build and strength will allow him to compliment – and eventually replace – Jonathan Baldwin at the split end position.

Aaron Donald, DL, Penn Hills (6’1″, 270): Wannstedt has made a habit of collecting quick, athletic defensive linemen during his time at Pitt, and Donald certainly fits that mold. He was arguably the best defensive lineman in the area his senior year, and his domination during the WPIAL playoffs only proved that. He’s solid, strong, and very agile for his size, and should fit right in the rotation with some experience and good instruction from DL coach Greg Gattuso. He also runs a 4.9 40-yard dash, not too shabby.

Brandon Ifill, DB, Penn Hills (6’0″, 180): He’s definitely not the marquee defensive back coming out of Penn Hills (that distinction goes to Michigan recruit Cullen Christian), but he’s a viable addition all the same to a defensive backfield that could use some raw speed. Ifill is a member of the Indians’ track team, namely, a 100-meter dash sprinter. He was a member of one of the top 400-meter relay teams in the area as a junior, and that speed plays perfectly in a conference whose two-time defending champion has a bunch of speedy wideouts in Cincinnati.

Khaynin Mosley-Smith, DL, Woodland Hills (6’1, 285): On the surface it’s hard to believe he was recruited to play defense, considering he didn’t play on that side of the ball during his senior year. But apparently Pitt’s coaches know the same thing a lot of other people know: he’s big, quick and strong. He ran a 4.9 40-yard dash, bench-pressed 340 pounds and squatted 615 at Pitt’s individual skills camp last summer. No wonder they snatched him up so quickly.

Todd Thomas, WR, Beaver Falls/Milford Academy (6’3″, 210): A year of prep school should serve this top 2009 WPIAL receiver a lot of good academically and physically. He already has a pretty good pedigree that has had a year to develop and now he and Carswell add some quality size and depth to the receiving corps almost immediately. There have been some reports of his immaturity and lack of work ethic, but a year at Milford should quell that if he earns some playing time.

Carswell has size, speed and strength. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti will make the most of his abilities and pedigree just like he has with Aliquippa native Jonathan Baldwin

Kevin Weatherspoon, WR, Clairton (6’0″, 183): Hands, athleticism and speed are this young man’s strengths, but playing in the WPIAL’s smallest classification (single-A) could be the cause for some of his success at the prep level. But if you know what I know and you’ve seen his highlight reel, he’s good enough to change your mind.

  • The topic of Penguins’ owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle’s offer to buy the Pirates seems to be the most talked-about thing in town these days. Whether or not Pirates’ owner Bob Nutting should sell isn’t really important to me. Who signs the checks for a baseball team is nowhere near as important as the where the money is going for baseball operations. Even the larger market teams have shrewd management making their baseball decisions. The Red Sox have Theo Epstein, the Yankees have Brian Cashman, the Mets have Omar Minaya… (OK, so maybe Minaya isn’t the best example). The point is, adequate scouting, drafting and development are what make a competent organization. Just ask the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, and Florida Marlins. The funny part is, the MLB Players’ Union has accused the Marlins of not spending enough money on payroll and they’ve won just as many World Series as the Yankees in the past seven years. In fact, they BEAT the Yankees in 2003 with a $48.7 M payroll, meanwhile New York’s was $107 M higher. Further proof that smart money beats big money.
  • What’s scary about watching Sidney Crosby is he’s already about to pass his career-high for goals in a season (39) and it’s only February. Combine that with the fact that he has gone from one of the worst face-off centers in the NHL to one of the best in only one season, and it’s clear that the best player in the world is still getting better. And what’s worse: he’s only 23.
  • The Steelers have a handful of free agent decisions to make, but the two most important in my opinion are retaining Casey Hampton and Deshea Townsend. With Dick LeBeau returning for another season as defensive coordinator, Hampton’s six-Pro Bowl talent is needed at nose tackle in that 3-4 scheme. And Townsend’s instincts, ball skills and veteran leadership are very necessary in the defensive backfield. It’s disgusting that he’s third on the depth chart at cornerback and he has the best ball skills of them all. Considering that he has practiced at free safety the past few years, plays zone as well as anybody and is considered by LeBeau as the “smartest player” he’s ever coached, just imagine Townsend and a healthy Troy Polamalu as the Steelers’ starting safety duo next season. I would guarantee an increase in (if not double) the amount of interceptions by the Steeler defense in 2010.
  • Duquesne basketball fans better start getting excited about Damian Saunders. He leads the nation in double-doubles (16), is arguably the A-10’s Player of the Year at this point in the season, and I would put him up against anybody as the best player in the country that nobody knows about. And after they get excited about him, they need to thank Marquette for letting him slip away so Ron Everhart could get him.
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