In the Midst of Recruiting…

In the Midst of Recruiting…

When fans talk about their team’s recruiting it always turns to whether recruits are good ones or not so good ones.  Which is pretty funny actually because you never know what is going to happen with the recruits from the minute they sign their Letter of Intent to their participating in spring or fall camps and on through the first few years of their eligibility.

What a lot of fans don’t take into account are all the variables that go into the transition from high school to college. These kids deal with being away from home and many for the first time, and handling a separation from family, friends and girlfriends, to changes in climate and to the rigors of academics at the college level just to name a few contributing factors to a smooth transition.

That doesn’t always happen the way it should.  For example Paris Ford, our highly rated 4* recruit, sat out his first year and took a redshirt because of a tough transition to college life.  That happens more than is publicly known and sometimes a redshirt has to be applied due to academic or disciplinary problems.

Fans can’t really know how all that will play out with individual recruits so we look at other variables that the recruit brings to the recruiting process; his star and numerical ratings by the recruiting websites, HS highlight films and other scholarship offers are what fans talk about the most when they discuss the relative merits of one recruit stacked up against others.

But what the fans see and what the recruiting scouts (both college’s and the recruiting sites’) see are two different things.  Fans watch the HS highlight clips and see only the great plays the recruit made – professional scouts request whole game films from the HS coaches so they get a 360° view of how the kid actually did over an extended period of play, usually a three game set of films.  This is why I have to laugh when a fan writes “I watched his highlights on the site and he should have been a 4* instead of a 3* recruit!”  Of course one would think that- those are the absolute best plays he made all year.

Sometimes, especially in the case of Pitt fans (and I suspect others schools as well) what geographical area the recruits are from seems to float their boat- that rings true especially now in Pitt’s 2019 class since we just have gotten commitments from seven recruits who hail from south of the Mason-Dixon Line (out of 14 so far), with a bunch from Florida,,, where apparently and automatically kids are bigger, stronger and are able to leap tall building with a single bound.

Recruiting is the prime example of “an inexact science” in my opinion and it always has been.  It is hard to tell just how good a player will be when you are on the outside looking in. Personally, I put more trust in the recruiting star rankings then some fans do.  But then again I have been watching recruiting unfold for over ten years now as I have been writing about the Pitt football program since 2009.  The recruiting sites get it right way more often than they get it wrong IMO especially when prescribing 4s or 5s to a recruit.

On the POV a common theme that runs through Pitt fans conversations is the difference between 4* and 3* recruits.  Some fans look at the numerical differences between a 5.7 kid who is given a 3* rating and a 5.8 kid who gets a 4* (or Blue Chip) rating and see just a 1/10th of a point difference.  But the text info copied below states grading system very clearly.  What is the difference maker is with that 1/10th of a point between 5.7 and 5.8 is the description given for the 4* recruits.

Another thing to realize is that unlike ESPN or 247’s ratings Rivals is all about the potential a recruit has for playing college ball.

Before you read the below this needs to be understood – the first ‘determination‘ a recruiting site scout looks for an individual high school player is which prospect description below the individual recruit fits into.  Once that is determined then they assigned the gradient ‘points’ number to the player.  For example, from the scouts observations and information gathered Player A is determined to be an All-American Candidate first and foremost so right away the scout is going to be awarding between a 5.8 and a 6.0 to that kid.

Then the scouts drill down to what numerical points the recruit should be awarded.  So the common belief that there is negligible difference between a 4* 5.8 recruit and a 3* 5.7 recruit just isn’t really true or applicable… it looks like it on the surface but because the second recruit didn’t meet the description of an “All-American Candidate”.  Again the very first level of designation is the textual description – not the numerical one.

6.1 = Five-star prospect

6.0-5.8 = Four-star prospect

5.7-5.5 = Three-star prospect

5.2-5.4 = Two-star prospect

6.1 Franchise Player: considered one of the elite prospects in the country, generally among the nation’s top 30-35 players overall, a potential first-team All American candidate and a player deemed to have first round NFL potential.

6.0-5.8 All American Candidate: considered one of the next-tier elite prospects in the country, generally among the nation’s top 300-325 prospects overall, a national All American candidate and a player deemed to have first to third round NFL potential

5.7-5.5 All Region Selection: considered among the region’s top prospects and generally among the nation’s top 800-850 prospects overall, a potential All-Conference candidate and a player deemed to have mid to low-end pro potential and ability to impact at the college level.

There is a large gulf between saying someone had All-American potential vice All-Region potential and projecting the player to go in the first to third round in the  NFL draft vice maybe not getting drafted at all.

How has this worked out at Pitt?

Well, just as you think it might – the 4* and 5* players we have had have done better in relation to the 2* and 3* kids – accounting for the ratio of Blue Chippers to 3* roster makeup.  We sure see outliers in this sometimes – Greg Romeus was a 2* kid as was Devin Street – two very good and productive players for us in the past.  So yeah, it can happen but you don’t want to rely on lightning striking that way too many times.

Somehow readers on here feel that I believe 3* players are no good and can’t succeed and that just isn’t the case.  Our history is filled with 3* players who have gone on to be All-Conference and even All-American…every year almost a few 3* players rise above their peers and play lights out…Aaron Donald, James Conner and Brian O’Neill are just some of the latest in that line.

What I have said many times over is that if you have a roster full of 3* players you’ll be playing 3* football and that has been the case at Pitt over the years.  Believe me more 3* recruits play average ball or fail to get on the field way more often that another 3* kid turns into a star player at Pitt.

I have no problem with Pitt getting 3* players – the vast majority of eligible recruits are 3* kids but you have to grab the better ones, or the ones with more “stardom” potential whenever we can.  That takes a very strong recruiting staff and very good and solid connections with HS coaches.  A constant successful program has a good percentage of 4* recruits in relation to the number 3* recruits in each class.

But the bottom line is that if you are going to rely on recruiting classes consisting overwhelmingly of 3* players then some of those have to really break out and play at true stardom level. I mean have real star power out there – grand enough to take the game on their shoulders and will the team to victory.

Think about what Pitt football would have been like over the years 2011 through 2015 had we not had Aaron Donald and James Conner on either side of the ball?  A series of heavily losing seasons is what would have happened. They weren’t 4* kids but played at the ultimate All-American star level.

I believe this is where we have been falling down with recruits Narduzzi has been getting to commit to him to play ball at Pitt.

That commitment date is a key issue because it goes directly into the heart of the subject of what a head coach has to do to convince a high school player to come to his university and play in his football program.  The 12-24 months it takes to find, scout and assess and then convince a HS player, his parents and coach that Pitt is the best choice for him is truly where the hard work is done.

An inheriting new HC does have to keep the player committed to the school but if you look back at when most head coaching turnover has been in late December and early January you see that is so close to LOI signing Day (as opposed to the normal recruiting time of 12-24 months before) that almost all recruits stay with the school they committed to.

The main reason they do is 1) they want to attend and play at that college no matter who the coach is and 2) that all their other ‘best offers’ schools have their commitment quota met by that late date.  The latter happens more frequently than we know.

We saw an exception to this with the Wannstedt to Haywood to Graham turnover but that was a completely different animal because of the negative circus surrounding the firing of Wannstedt and the Haywood debacle.  But then the last two coaching changes went rather smoothly – especially this last one where I think maybe only one or two committed recruits shifted schools and didn’t sign with us.

When gauging a head coaches’ actual recruiting prowess it must start with who he got to commit, not who he had sign on at LOI Day for the reasons above.  Narduzzi is the coach of record for the full 2015 class but the bald fact is that the best players of that class, Whitehead, Hall, Henderson, Dane Jackson and Tre’ Tipton (to name a few) were recruited by and had committed, to another head coach.

That isn’t just an aberration either – we have seen a downward trend from the previous years over Narduzzi’s last two full recruiting classes – classes of 2017 and 2018 where we have seen only one 4* recruit and he’s had no early ‘breakout players’ of his own recruits since he’s been hired. That may change in this 2018 season but his last three years have been bereft of star recruits.

Here is the last 10 years of recruiting classes, including the unfinished 2019 class we are in the process of filling out now.  It encompasses our last four head coaches and you can see how things went them and how they not only recruited but got very good play from some kids who I called ‘stars’ in the table:


Recruit TableRight now we have verbal commitments from these 14 recruits in the class of 2019 which was ranked 27th after the June 15th weekend flurry of verbals and is currently ranked #37 (and dropping over the last month).

Class of 2019

Now there are some kids on there who will surely play decent ball for us in the future, that is pretty much assured in every recruiting class.  But when Pitt had that surprising recruiting weekend over June 15th and got commitments from so many Florida kids the fans’ praises went overboard in my opinion – but it was nice to see us ranked 27th or so nationally after that flurry of verbals.  It was a good start for sure but the real proof will be in the other 11 recruits we’ll get for 2010.

Again – note the absence of blue chip players on this list.  That’s why we have dropped from 27th to 37th… because we keep getting 3* or 2* kids committing to us while other teams around us are getting better ranked recruits.

There is a real myth of Florida recruiting also I believe. Below are our Florida recruits going back to the class of 2006 – so there are 12 years of results on the field to consider when reviewing these recruits.  Take a look at the list below and tell me how many of them were markedly better than any recruit from the Tri-State area…

Dexter Davidson, Greg Romeus,  Jared Martin, Tamarcus Porter, Jabaal Sheard, Ricky Gary, Greg Williams, Sherod Murdock,  Anthony Jackson,  Joe Trebitz,  Shane Gordon, Jason Douglas,  LaQuentin Smith,  Roderick Ryles, Ronald Jones and James Folston Jr.     

Can any of us really say that other than Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus those other Florida recruits were special in any way, shape or form?  Out of 15 Florida recruits only two made All- Big East or All-ACC and those were the two mentioned above.  Gee – I supposed if all we did was recruit Florida Defensive Ends we’d be in good shape!

So that is a myth that has been perpetrated among Pitt fans for some reason I can’t fathom.  Hell, we get much better players from New Jersey and New York than we do Florida.  I’ll take Dion Lewis, Ray Graham, TJ Clemmings, Jason Hendricks, K’Wuan Williams, Kevin Mosley-Smith, Quadree Ollison and Saleem Brightwell over all but two of the Florida recruits and these kids are from states Pitt fans’ turn their noses up to.

We’ll see this coming season how well a 22 starting player field of mostly Narduzzi-committed recruits will fare.  QB Kenny Pickett looks to be a future star and if that holds he’ll be the first of Narduzzi’s recruits to ‘break-out’ in his first two years. Other than he we really can’t point to any other Narduzzi recruit who has done so.  We are all keeping our fingers crossed for DB Paris Ford to do so but he hasn’t taken a snap yet.

But it won’t be all Narduzzi commitments; one has to look no further than 2018’s projected LB corps to see that they are all either previous walk-ons or Chryst recruits – Wirginis, Idowu and Zeise were here before this current HC signed on with only Brightwell being the Narduzzi kid.

The same can be said for the projected Offensive Line with Dintino, Bookser and Herndon being Chryst recruits and supplemented by a walk-on in Morrissey then most probably a transfer or two.

For those Pitt fans who feel that other Pitt fans are too negative about the immediate future of Pitt football this lack of strong recruiting is a very real reason to be concerned.  Pitt has made a living by having true “star” players in each and every one of our bigger winning season going back for some time.

Last year we didn’t have that and it showed in our play out on the field and in our season’s 5 wins and 7 loss record. We need for things to change quickly if we want this program to get back up to that 8, 9 or 10 win level and as it looks now that might be hard to do.  Let’s keep hoping two or three players really come through and surprise because without that happening some of us fans feel we’ll be looking at a possible repeat of 2017.