Signed, Sealed, Committed: Panthers finalize 2017 recruiting class


Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi and Julio Freire, Pitt’s deputy athletic director for external affairs, take a moment during National Signing Day to converse with reporters. Steve Rotstein | Contributing Editor

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

The first fax of National Signing Day arrived at Pitt’s football facility on the South Side at about 7:04 a.m., from local offensive lineman Gabe Houy. By 7:45 a.m., more than half of the team’s 18 unofficial commits had signed and faxed their National Letters of Intent.

Pat Narduzzi finalized his second full recruiting class as Pitt’s head coach a little more than six hours and 19 faxes later. Barring any unforeseen changes, it’s even stronger than expected.

The Panthers already had four recruits graduate high school early and enroll at Pitt for the spring 2017 semester — quarterback Kenny Pickett, offensive lineman Jerry Drake Jr., defensive end Deslin Alexandre and punter Kirk Christodoulou.

Narduzzi and his staff welcomed the rest of the team’s verbal commits Wednesday morning, along with two crucial last-minute pickups — four-star running back A.J. Davis out of Lakeland, Florida, and three-star defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman from Washington, D.C.

The Panthers received signed Letters of Intent from all 18 recruits who had verbally committed to join the team, while bolstering the class with the pair of previously undecided recruits. In all, Pitt’s 2017 class will feature 24 high school recruits, one graduate transfer — former USC quarterback Max Browne — and one preferred walk-on, long snapper Cal Adomitis.

“It’s great to have everybody here today. I think Signing Day is a great day for the University of Pittsburgh,” Narduzzi said at his 3 p.m. press conference. “We get to add 26 total football players, student-athletes to this class, with hundreds more family [members] that are going to be new Pitt fans.”

After almost a month away from college football, National Signing Day gives fans a chance to recover, rejoice and reconvene while getting ready for the upcoming season. Recruits who have waited weeks, months or sometimes years to officially sign with their favorite school can finally make those dreams a reality.

This year’s class is an especially important one for the Panthers, who are dealing with the departures of junior running back James Conner and seniors Dorian Johnson, Adam Bisnowaty, Nathan Peterman and Ejuan Price — all projected NFL Draft picks.

Narduzzi and his staff delivered by producing the Panthers’ most star-studded class in years, featuring three Under Armour All-Americans and three four-star prospects, according to Rivals.

“When you look at it, and you’ve got all these players, and they’ve got these egos, and again, they were the star in their high school, they’ve all got potential,” Narduzzi said. “Some guys will reach their potential, some guys won’t. That’s our job as coaches to develop them as they get here.”

Including Browne, Pitt’s 2017 class features two quarterbacks, two running backs, three wide receivers, three tight ends, four offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, three linebackers, three defensive backs, one punter and one long snapper.

The commemorative football that all the recruits in Pitt's 2017 class signed upon committing. Steve Rotstein | Contributing Editor
The commemorative football that all the recruits in Pitt’s 2017 class signed upon committing. Steve Rotstein | Contributing Editor

The centerpiece of the class is local safety Paris Ford, the No. 3 prospect in Pennsylvania and the No. 51 prospect in the entire country according to Rivals. He was the first player to commit to Pitt’s 2017 class in October 2015, and Narduzzi is excited to officially have him as part of the team.

“You just see a quick-twitch athlete that will snap on you,” Narduzzi said. “He’s physical, he loves the game … I don’t know if we’ve got a guy back there in the secondary right now that has the attitude he does.”

Narduzzi said he expects Ford to bring an added level of intensity to his defensive backfield.

“I think you want it to permeate the program, to be honest with you,” Narduzzi said about Ford’s fierce attitude.“You know, I like guys that have got some stuff to them. I’ve got some stuff to me I don’t show you guys all the time … I want some guys that love the game and have emotion.”

Ford’s demand continued to rise after his standout performance in the Under Armour All-America game. Narduzzi and his staff had to battle with college football’s blue bloods, including Alabama and Ohio State, for his pledge.

“[Ford] has been a loyal, loyal guy, since he committed to us,” Narduzzi said. “He had a lot of people tampering with him, calling him, FaceTiming him — doing whatever. He had several schools that came in the last couple of weeks to try to switch him, turn him, flip him. Coach [Rodney] Steele and really the whole administration at Steel Valley did a great job securing him.”

Ford started the day as the Panthers’ only commit ranked among Rivals’ top 250 overall prospects, but that list doubled with the addition of Davis in the early afternoon.

Davis is the No. 14 running back prospect and No. 247 overall prospect in the nation, and he wasn’t even expected to be the featured tailback in this class. Todd Sibley, the nation’s No. 24 running back, already committed to Pitt in June.

Sibley, who originally chose to attend Ohio State before flipping his commitment to Pitt, also earned a trip to the Under Armour All-American game with Ford and Davis. The commits are promising — marking a successful signing day for Narduzzi — but he’s not ready to guarantee their spots on the field right away.

“They’re coming here as high school stars, and they’re starting off at the bottom rung of college football,” Narduzzi said.

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