Recruiting (and Keeping) Prospective All-Americans

Much is talked about with the “star” rankings given high school recruits by the for-profit recruiting sites, like and Scouts, and what that means later on in college. I don’t believe anyone in their right mind wouldn’t want a roster full of 4* and 5* players… but then we’d be Alabama and that wouldn’t be any fun.  All they do is win all the time.

Well, we ain’t Alabama, OSU or even Penn State when it comes to recruiting. So Pitt has a lot less of the blue-chip recruits then some schools do.  I have written in the past that it isn’t recruiting those highly ranked players as it is to keep them on the roster for a full four years of eligibility.  Pitt has a real problem with that.

Just the other day Chris Peak of Rivals posted up a great article as he re-ranked Pitt’s 2013 recruiting class.  That was Paul Chryst’s first class and those kid are, or would be, rsJR or SRs this upcoming season.  What jumps out is 10 some of the best talent Pitt has seen in years and 2) the fact that almost half the class didn’t make it onto the field or finish a four-year stint.

Pitt has a poor track record of getting highly ranked kids and then getting the most out of them.  It is much like the chicken and the egg conundrum; are the recruits too highly ranked or were their coaching staffs not up to getting the best out of them?

Then of course there is the attitudinal side of things with recruits where for various reasons a player just can’t cut the mustard at this level and that doesn’t happen only on the athletics side.  Many can’t adjust to the harder academics or being away from home and some just can’t adjust to a lifestyle they weren’t accustom to prior to arriving at Pitt.

Some recruits come from a place where they were put on a pedestal and their younger transgressions were either overlooked or even allowed based on their status as football players. Those kids have the hardest times re-adjusting to the fact that they are now one of many and actually do have to do what others tell them to do.

Let’s take a look at some of the past recruiting classes and see what the Top 10 ranked kids did while here at Pitt.  First lets look at two Dave Wannstedt classes with  the 2007 and 2008 classes as ranked by

2007’s Recruiting Class

07 top 10

First off we see six 4* players which is an excellent haul for us historically and led us to a #26th national ranking for that class.

Unfortunately we also see that five of those ten players didn’t last four years. Now – one of those was because he did so well and thus LeSean McCoy, a true star RB, declared early. But 4* guys Tony Tucker and Tommie Duhart did little or nothing and took off early… as did Maurice Williams and Dan Matha.

In that class I believe McCoy had a real shot to become an All-American player for Pitt. His first two years were outstanding and he looked to just get better as he matured. He left for greener pastures though.

2008’s Recruiting Class

08 Top 10

Here we see that this class was also highly rated and came in ranked 28th nationally.  With one 5* and five 4* players in a total of 19 recruits  that shows real effective recruit targeting. So what did those Top Five kids do for us?

This class stuck around more than most do with only two of the 10 leaving early – Cruz was dismissed by Todd Graham and Chris Burns looked for greener pastures at a lower level of play.  Most of them became starters and I’d say that Baldwin and Holley played to their star level – maybe Nix also but since he went on a personnel work strike and refused to play ball I can’t give him all that much credit.

As far as all-American’s go Jon Baldwin was a pre-season All-American pick by some but a rather mediocre JR year dashed those hopes – so he then declared a year early and was drafted. Here is what he did for us and you can see the drop-off from his SO to JR years:


His being a late 1st round pick was due to his ‘measurables” and certainly not his attitude. The day he downfield blocks for another ball carrier will be the first time he does it.  However had he stayed and gotten back to his 2009 form he may well have made the All-American listing.

2011’s Recruiting Class

Let’s jump to 2011 with another coach’s recruiting class and this one is very interesting especially coming off the firing of Dave Wannstedt and the blow up of the 2011 class that he had gathered.

11 Top 10.png

Here is a class that stumbled its way to being trivia answers for future Pitt fans.  Only two 4* kids out of 21 recruits gave us a 58th ranked class.  We did have some good ones in there – Mosley Smith could be considered to have played at a 4* level (if you are being generous) but no one will say Grigsby did.

Six out of those 10 players either bagged out early or were dismissed from the team by the next HC Paul Chryst. 14 of the total 21 recruits were gone by their JR years.  I see no possible All-Americans among all 21 of them, do you?

2012’s Recruiting Class

Now comes a pretty amazing bit of bad luck on Pitt’s part as Chryst’s first class – 2012 – was a pretty good one considering all the turmoil and bad press Pitt had gotten over the previous two years with Wannstedt’s firing and Graham’s slithering off campus.

12 Top 10

That class had a total of 16 recruits and was ranked a low 47th of the D1 schools.  You have to look at that first four players and think they would have been an excellent nucleus to build a team around.  At least on paper.

What happened in real life was a lot different as the 4*s didn’t make the grade all the way around; Shell was kicked off the team for cause, Rippy was asked to leave, but Voytik and Bisnowaty had decent careers while at Pitt.  Bisnowaty especially as he was All-ACC and a three-time Academic All-American pick. Personally I think he played at All-American level last season but no one in the decision-making line felt the same way.

Voytik we know left after his JR when he lost the starting QB job to Nate Peterman who was a transfer in rather than a recruit. Five of the top 10 listed never saw a full four years here and nine of 16 total didn’t either. That is a lot of recruits to lose the services of.

While we didn’t have any All-Americans in this class you have to wonder what would have happened with Shell if his was head screwed on correctly and he stayed at Pitt. Had he done that James Conner may well have been kept at DE for his career as he arrived a year later than Shell did.  best for us that it worked out the way it did though.

2013’s Recruiting Class

So – onward to Peak’s look at the 2013 class in all its glory.  This was his last season at pitt and one class that has shown how well it can play ball – especially on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage.  here is the Top 10 as ranked;

13a Top 10

This class consisted of 27 recruits and was ranked a good 37th nationally. From the list above we had Reese, Moody, MacLean and Chapman failed to finish four years and Chapman failed to reach the fall camp.  Ten of the total 27 weren’t on the 2016 roster.

As you can see we had an All-American in OL Dorian Johnson last season and it isn’t a stretch to say that if Boyd returned and , like Baldwin, played to his SO season’s level he might have been awarded All-American Status.

Then we have James Conner.

I’ll say that had he returned for his SR year he’d have been healthy enough to pick up a productive year like he had in 2014.  So I’ll hand him All-American status on a silver platter because he did this before he left Pitt:

James Conner Superlatives
ACC All-Time Touchdowns Leader (56)
ACC All-Time Rushing TDs Leader (52)
2016 First Team All-ACC
2016 Disney Sports Spirit Award
2016 FWAA Courage Award
2016 Brian Piccolo Award
2016 Maxwell Club Thomas Brookshier Spirit Award
2015 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team
2014 First Team All-American (AFCA)
2014 ACC Player of the Year
2014 First Team All-ACC
2nd All-Time at Pitt in Rush Yards (3,733)
2nd All-Time at Pitt in Touchdowns (56)
2nd All-Time at Pitt in Rush TDs (52)
3rd All-Time at Pitt in Points Scored (338)

That’s a hell of a resume’.

Of course we have had other players who would have, in my opinion, reached AA status; Class of ’09’s RB Dion Lewis who, in his FR year, stunned the world with 1799 yards and 17 TDs rushing.  That earned him 2nd string All-American in some polls but he outright won national Freshman of the Year honors.  He left after his 2nd year and followed McCoy and Fitzgerald in taking advantage of the NCAA rule that allows players who attended a year of prep school after high school to leave after two years.

Superstar Aaron Donald spent his full four years at Pitt making him unique in that Pitt players who are good enough to get drafted in any round tend to take off as soon as they can. He gained unanimous 1st team All-American honors in his SR year and won every other award under the sun also.

Let’s keep an eye on WR/RB/Everything Quadree Henderson’s next two seasons -He’s been made an All-American already and we could well have another Heisman Trophy winner at Pitt if he’s properly advertised nationally.

It is easy to sit back and wonder what would have happened if… isn’t it?  But the fact is that our recruiting classes had some real gems in them and about 40-50% of those never made it through a ‘normal’ four year career at Pitt.  I don’t think Pitt is a whole lot different from other schools in this regard; but I really don’t care about them.

However I do care about Pitt and would like to be able to look at a recruiting class from top to bottom and feel like who we get in any given year is actually going to play ball for us, but in reality that just isn’t always the case.



31 thoughts on “Recruiting (and Keeping) Prospective All-Americans

  1. from the 2013 list, you can see why the recent offense was so good but the defense struggled. In the list
    of 10 above, I see 3 guys who played offense and are sure bet pros plus a 4th who has a decent chance.
    There are 2 defensive guys who are long shots at best,

    Sadly, there is an asterisk to Holtz (2012), and Boyd and Johnson (2013) who would have gone to PSU if it weren’t for the sanctions. In fact, both Holtz and Johnson committed to PSU initially but backed off.

    2012 and 2013 were the years Pitt could have really made an impact given the situation at the Dairy School, but of course, we also had our years of instability …. and don’t think the fact that we have had so many HCs, both in our recent past and since the mid 60s, is still being used against us by opposing recruiters


  2. LOL, Bostick and Audrey Wright as four stars. All I remember from Wright is he ran a long reverse for a TD versus Louisville in 2008 that was called back, and I thought Wannstedt was going to attack the incompetent Big East officials.

    And people wonder why Pitt struggled in 2010. Some of these guys who should have been redshirt seniors were no longer in the program.

    Both Duhart and Williams flashed skills in 2007 and both left Wannstedt no choice to but to get rid of them.


  3. I mentioned this the other night on the round-table that there is a hidden effect when a highly respected recruit verbals to a school like PITT. That is the possibility of a domino effect and it doesn’t have to be felt by local recruits alone.

    Lately though this hasn’t been the case. I feel part of the reason is the high end quality of players from WPA. These kids have had some really good offers to cipher through.

    The infamous 412 crew has let PITT down in some ways. Back to my point. Just because a high star recruit doesn’t completely pan out doesn’t necessarily mean that the recruit didn’t have some impact on the school…Rooster Jones is a sort of an example. Jones got PITT Hugh Green. Doesn’t that make Rooster Jones a really great PITT recruit despite the fact he did very little on the football field? ….ike


  4. The flip side is looking at kids who went elsewhere:

    Patrick Kugler – Michigan. Pencilled to start after career back up.
    Chase Winovich – Michigan. Expected to start after considerable playing time previously.
    KhalekeHudson – Michigan-expected to start RS freshman
    Malik Hooker – OSU All American
    Shai MacKenzie – VT -transfer.
    Demetrius Cox – MSU. Solid career. NFL free agent.
    Montae Nicholson – MSU. 3-year starter (I think). 4th round pick.
    Givens -PSUcks – considerable playing time so far.
    Miles Sanders – parked behind Barkley, with lots of thoroughbreds looking for playing time.
    Robert Foster -Alabama- second team behind Calvin Ridley.

    That’s about all that come to mind.

    Have at me if I’m wrong about any of these.

    Finally, Jimmy Boeheim says 50% of the 5-star hoopsters are busts, and these are kids who play against one another in AAU tournies all the time.


    1. you left of Dravon Henry who started at WVU as a natural frosh. We Pitt fans can only wonder what a D backfield of Nichiolsen and Henry would have added to this past year’s team since Pitt were the early favorites for them.

      Ironically, Pitt was the early favorite for Hooker also … Pitt BB, but he never got an offer. Guess things worked out for him as he was the Colts’ 1st round pick


  5. I think there were a few Jeannette players left off the list aside from Cox? Pryor and Dent (WVU starting center for a couple years at least). and the one player that went to Buffalo but was a P-5 player.


  6. Y’all know recruiting better than I but unless you are a Bama or tOSU where they throw back 4 stars into the fishing hole (slight exaggeration but not much) there is a great deal of crap shoot involved. To me the mark of a good head coach at a school at the level of ours (30-50) is the ability to spot players with tremendous upsides.. Even then injuries can and have derailed many a possibly good career.
    Enjoy a well need respite from us nuts Reed and thank you for your service and all vets.


  7. Reed, Henderson won’t be around after this year since he most likely will declare for the draft. As for the Heisman being a possibility, not likely since he doesn’t get his hands on the ball enough during the game to be in the running for that trophy.


    1. 1) Henderson at 5’7 175 (soak and wet) shouldn’t be used too much. I continue not to understand any criticism from last year’s offense …. whether it’s Henderson wasn’t used enough or Ollison didn’t get enough carries, etc.

      2) I think what made Pitt offense so productive is that they had so many weapons. Henderson, Conner, Orndoff, Weah, etc … and I didn’t even mention

      3) Maurice Ffrench, who appears to be Henderson-like in his limited time. Expect him to get more time unless he is needed on defense.


  8. How about this recruit, Bigge Johnson? Solid 4* from Jism South Carolina. Plays in AAAA conference against very stiff competition. Known for his powerful penetration through the opposing OL. Is set to explode at the next level.
    Many school’s can’t wait to get their hands on this one. Rumor has it that Narduzzi is “hands off” on him however due to his perceived attitude of entitlement, Narduzzi thinks he’s a jerkoff.
    Interesting enough for you?


  9. Give me a 3 star recruit with his head screwed on right, who understands up front the fact that even with constant playing time in the college game that most likely success in his post college career will be more about getting his college education than getting picked in the NFL draft.
    Those are the kind of kids that I enjoy following through their college years at Pitt. They get their chance at both a college diploma & playing big time football. In the end, if they come out of college as educated mature young men that have represented our University well. Then, “mission accomplished” in my mind.

    Caprara is a fine example of that kind of individual of which I speak. A well rounded young man who I’m proud to see as a Pitt alumnus.


    1. More times than not, these are the type of guys that don’t wash out because they have realistic expectations to begin with and may possess the moral character and perseverance to make it while in college to begin with.

      It’s easy to lose sight of this fact in the quest for championships and the huge paydays that are associated with elite program’s success. In the end, in the majority of sports associated with institutions of higher learning, these kids truly are “student athletes”, rather than athletes who also might be considered a student at some level who are just waiting in that “farm league” to jump into their sport at the next professional level.


  10. Henderson must cut down on his fumbles this year. Just as he made plays to win games, i recall several fumble that lost us games. Unless he does, he will not play in the NFL.


  11. & BTW, less we forget, a salute goes out to all of the hundreds of thousands of American Patriots who have died in the process of defending our Country. Over the many wars fought by the United States.

    May your ultimate sacrifices be recognized always, not just on your special day of rememberance today.


  12. Whether they are 5 star or 2 star you need many great players to have a great team. Super fun to watch guys like Fitz, Revis, Shady, Boyd and Conner, but you need more than a few each year. And you need them on both sides of the ball.

    Ray mentioned Henderson’s fumbles. The turnover battle is a major part of each and every game. Fumbles and interceptions win and lose most games.


  13. Love the breakdown of recruiting and that story tells the truth for sure but there is one main thing to keep in mind…

    …PITT BEAT psu AND CLEMSON LAST YEAR. How does this happen? That was coaching my fellow POVers and that is how PITT shall overcome.

    One and only one team beat the NCAA National Champions last year. PITT with it’s 3 and 2 star recruits. A new day has dawned!


      1. You count Peterman as a 4 star here, but discount Max Browne as a 5 star in other references. you con’t have it both ways.


  14. I agree Ike. Here’s hoping the coaching will continue to improve the talented but inexperienced players on the O and D-lines along with the entire Defense this year. H2P!


  15. Thanks PT…. and .. Wait a second here Reed. Peterman a four star???

    I thought the 5 stars Browne brought with him from southern cali doesn’t count? and 5 star Clark… That’s cherry picking old friend.

    I feel very violated without my Sunday podcast too. Now, get the hell out of town and enjoy yourselves and forget about the POV for awhile! …………………..ike

    We All We Got
    We All We Need


  16. In the article I’m talking about the stars that were awarded while the players were in HS – not how they played in college. The stars referenced were done so for a listing of who didn’t complete four years at Pitt.

    Peterman was a 4* recruit – that is a fact.

    Browne was a 5* recruit – that also is a fact.

    The difference between the two so far is that Peterman has lived up to his advanced billing for two years of college ball and Browne hasn’t.

    Now – can you guys agree with me that Browne hasn’t lived up to his 5* ranking yet?

    One more thing. When I was singing Peterman’s praises back when he arrived in the summer of 2015 it wasn’t at all because of his 4 stars. It was because of what the guys at Pitt were telling me about how talented he was.

    I really don’t care about stars awarded in recruiting for just the reasons I laid out in the article above… half of the 4* and 5* kids either don’t pan out talent-wise at Pitt or they drop out or get tossed out after a couple of years.

    I’m not going to get hot and bothered about a HS player who hasn’t taken a snap in college yet.


  17. What if Phil Jurkovic changed his commitment to Pitt? Would that do anything for you?


  18. Griz – Not really – as I said, since I started writing about Pitt football and really researching the past ten years (and more in some cases) I see that recruiting is a total crap shoot and especially for QBs.

    Fans were crazy excited about 4* Pat Bostick who was ranked #6 nationally and he settled in as playing average ball at best. We can go on and on and let’s do…

    Jurkovic is a 4* commit and ranked as the #3 QB (Rivals).

    Pat Bostick was a 4* and #6

    Tom Savage was a 4* and #8;

    Mark Myers was a 4* and a #11

    Voytik was a 4* and a #4;

    Peterman was a 4* and a #8;

    Out of Savage, Myers, Voytik, Bostick and Peterman only one played anywhere close to a 4* and Top 10 ranking – Peterman, and maybe Savage, but that was also in limited seasons. None of them had a sustained 4* career anywhere and not just at Pitt.

    Now – I’m excited about Pickett and he’s an unranked 3* but I’ve seen him twice in person and liked what I saw.

    Again – I don’t trust the star system much at all but it is a baseline of commonality for discussions about players and I’ll use it as such.

    But there are so many factors that go into success in college ball – many of them off the field issues – that common sense, maturity and intelligence means as much as talent in my opinion.

    (What the above list really says is that Pitt needs a good and dedicated QB position coach)


  19. Max Browne was the starting QB last year for a very good USC team that started the season last year with Bama Utah State (who Browne and the Trojans kicked their butts) and Stanford. He’s taken a snap or two for a bigger football program than PITT


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