Panthers pounce during early signing period

By Dominic Campbell | Staff Writer

The ink has dried on 16 letters of intent for Panther football so far, as new faces signed up to be sporting blue and gold at Heinz Field in 2018.

The first early signing period in NCAA college football history — from Dec. 20 through Dec. 22 — concluded Friday with 16 of 17 commits officially settling on playing for the University of Pittsburgh.

The period was an adjustment for coaches across the nation, including Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, whose new batch of star players have arrived just in time for the holidays.

The early signing period comes as part of the NCAA’s new recruitment model. The signing period does not eliminate National Signing Day, which will occur in February, but allows for recruits to make their final decision to play for a school earlier.

“First time going through this December period it’s always interesting,” Narduzzi said during a press conference. “There’s good things and there’s bad things about it. For our coaching staff to be able to relax during the holidays and know that were pretty much through.”

The signing day started at 7:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, and some players wasted no time sending in their letters.

Defensive lineman Devin Danielson of Thomas Jefferson High School in Clairton sent his in first — arriving at precisely 7:07 a.m. Joining Danielson almost three minutes later was a Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League rival — offensive lineman Blake Zubovic from Belle Vernon Area High School.

The Panthers received NLIs from all of their WPIAL targets, as local recruits were a point of focus. Along with Danielson and Zubovic, there were offensive lineman Jake Kradel from Butler Senior High School, defensive lineman David Green from Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Danielson’s teammate at Thomas Jefferson, defensive lineman Noah Palmer.

Pitt received two NLIs from quarterbacks as well — a spot which the Panthers struggled to find stability in all season. Nick Patti from St. Joseph Regional in Montvale, NJ and junior-college commit Ricky Town from Newbury Park, California will join the roster under center next season.

After first-year Kenny Pickett starred for Pitt in their win against No 2. Miami at the end of this season, it became apparent that he would likely be top pick for starting quarterback next year.

Both redshirt first-year Thomas Macvittie and redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci have transferred — with their announcements coming earlier this month — allowing for Patti and Town to step up and compete for playing time.

“The quarterback room has that type of competition in it with that type of level of talent,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “I’m excited to have kind of that competition, with guys really wanting to compete for that position because it’s going to help our whole team.”

Also in competition for the top quarterback spot will be another junior-college transfer, Tyler Zelinski, from Erie Community College. Zelinski will join the team as a walk-on.

Pitt has also found a strong defensive line in its early recruiting class. Defensive back Judson Tallandier and defensive lineman John Morgan from Dematha Catholic in Upper Marlboro, MD both signed NILs Wednesday. The two are both are three star recruits — according to — and are ranked 12th and 13th in the state of Maryland, respectively.

Joining the pair from south of the Mason-Dixon is wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis. Jacques-Louis is from Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Florida, and is the 85th player ranked by in the state of Florida. He became the third player from Florida to sign in the class, joining defensive backs V’Lique Carter and Marquis Williams.

“I think one of the thing with Florida kids is that there are so many players so some of them aren’t afraid to spread their wings and move to different areas,” secondary coach Reinaldo Hill said.

The Panthers did experience some holiday drear, though, as prospective tight end Matt Alaimo rescinded his commitment. Alaimo was the only tight end in the class and was teammates with Patti at St. Joseph Regional. He could still sign for the Panthers, but his decommitment puts his bid in jeopardy.

Unlike previous recruiting classes, which saw high profile recruits such as first-year defensive back Paris Ford last year and sophomore defensive back Damar Hamlin in 2016, this class features only three-star recruits.

The recruiting process for Pitt is far from over — with available scholarships and players still uncommitted. Narduzzi and his coaching staff will continue to seek out new players before National Signing Day Feb. 7.

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