Despite losing record-setting running back James Conner to the 2017 NFL Draft, the Pitt football team had a plan to rebuild. Thanks to a last-minute snag on National Signing Day, the Panthers have done that and more.
Under Armour All-American and former Ohio State commit Todd Sibley, who committed to Pitt in June, signed his National Letter of Intent at about 8:10 a.m. Wednesday. Then, more than five hours later, after the last of the team’s 22 verbal commits had faxed in their NLI and the early-morning commotion at the South Side football facility had settled, Pitt’s already-crowded stable of running backs went from solid to stacked.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff gathered inside the team room at about 1:20 p.m. to turn on ESPN2. There, the coaches watched in anticipation as the No. 14 running back in the nation, A.J. Davis, announced where he would play college ball in 2017.
Pitt secures commitment No. 24 of the 2017 class from 4-star RB AJ Davis, No. 14 RB in the nation, with the coaches watching live on ESPN2. pic.twitter.com/cDZo1fM8LY
— Steve Rotstein (@SteveRotstein) February 1, 2017
The team room, where Pitt running backs and special teams coordinator Andre Powell sat watching, erupted into cheers and high-fives when Davis chose the Panthers over Louisville and South Florida, donning his navy blue Pitt hat and signing on the dotted line to make it official.
“I’m buying a lottery ticket on my way home,” Powell said, feeling lucky after Davis’ announcement.
Powell is understandably smitten with the abundance of weapons he now has at his disposal. Narduzzi said Powell already coined a nickname for the duo of Davis, a 5-foot-10, 198-pound speedster, and Sibley, a nimble 5-foot-9, 215-pound bruiser.
“I think coach Powell called them ‘Thunder and Lightning,’” Narduzzi said. “I don’t care if it’s ‘Thunder and Lightning,’ as long as we’ve got a storm in the backfield, we’re OK.”
Davis, a native of Lakeland, Florida, received offers from nearly every powerhouse program imaginable, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas. He narrowed his list to three final choices before siding with the Panthers.
“I just had a good relationship with the players and the coaches,” Davis said on the ESPN2 broadcast. “It felt like home when I went up there.”
The Panthers now have three Under Armour All-Americans in the 2017 class, with Davis joining his fellow tailback, Sibley, and defensive back Paris Ford. Davis also gives the team three four-star recruits along with Ford and tight end Charles Reeves Jr., according to Rivals.
Pitt will be without the second-leading rusher in the program’s storied history next year when Conner leaves the team. But by adding Davis and Sibley to a backfield that already includes Chawntez Moss, Darrin Hall and 2015 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison, the Panthers will be able to fill the void.
“Coach Powell was skipping through the hallways today, I’ll tell you that. He worked hard on both those guys,” Narduzzi said. “We needed both those guys, so it was great to get [Davis].”
It’s easy to see why Powell is feeling so giddy. Sibley checks in as the No. 24 running back prospect in the nation according to Rivals, and Davis is the highest-rated running back to sign with Pitt since Hopewell’s Rushel Shell in 2012.
“It was a really good day,” Powell said. “I don’t know how anybody could be any more excited about two prospects coming in.”
Davis wasn’t the Panthers’ only late addition Wednesday, though. After receiving faxes from each of their 22 verbal commits, the team added No. 23 at about 11 a.m. This one came from three-star defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman — a surprise to fans, but not to Narduzzi.
For weeks, hardcore Pitt fans have speculated on Twitter about a mystery recruit who had yet to reveal his decision. That mystery man turned out to by Twyman.
“He’s the silent assassin, if you guys didn’t already know,” Narduzzi said. “He was the silent assassin way before that unbelievable meal I had that his mom Stephanie made for me and Coach Powell at the house.”
Twyman, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle from Washington, D.C., chose Pitt over offers from several Power Five programs, including Florida, Louisville, Michigan State, South Carolina and Tennessee. He announced his decision at 11 a.m. on Twitter before sending his signed letter of intent to Narduzzi, who knew he was coming all along.
— THEANSWER (@JaylenTwyman) February 1, 2017
“Really, midseason, he was like, ‘Hey, coach, I’m coming,’” Narduzzi said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, Jaylen, I’ve heard that before, I can’t trust you, bro. We’ve heard it over and over again, but he’s a guy that’s been loyal the whole time … all along, he said, ‘Coach, I’m coming.’”