Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor
Pitt’s sports teams saw limited action throughout the summer months, but that doesn’t mean that the offseason was without consequence. From snagging heralded recruits to hiring new coaches and seeing former players get drafted, Pitt athletics saw several crucial developments take place over the summer. If you weren’t paying attention, we’ve got you covered.
It didn’t take long after classes ended last spring for Panther athletes to make headlines. On April 27, former Pitt running back and 2018 leading rusher Qadree Ollison was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the fifth round with the 152nd overall pick of the NFL Draft. Though Ollison was the only Panther drafted, his Pitt backfield mates Darrin Hall and George Aston also joined the NFL ranks via undrafted free agency.
Ollison has seemingly carved out a role as Atlanta’s third-string running back after leading the team in carries throughout the preseason. In fact, Ollison’s 35 carries and 129 yards rank third among all players in the preseason thus far. Hall, meanwhile, was recently released by the Green Bay Packers as they trimmed down their roster. Aston continues to battle for a spot on the Denver Broncos’ 53-man roster, where he could make his mark as a special teams playmaker.
While Pitt will dearly miss those departed seniors, head coach Pat Narduzzi made significant progress this summer toward stocking up for the future.
A date that Pitt football fanatics may eventually cite as a turning point for the program is June 22 — when the Panthers managed to earn six 2020 commitments in one single day. This includes their two highest-rated recruits of the class — four-star defensive back Jahvante Royal and four-star wideout Aydin Henningham.
Both four-star prospects hail from Florida, furthering Pitt’s already formidable pipeline to one of football’s foremost talent mines. Pitt didn’t neglect its hometown talent either, earning a commitment from Westinghouse’s own Dayon Hayes, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound, three-star defensive lineman who chose the Panthers over 25 other suitors including Penn State and West Virginia.
Pitt football’s class of 2020 will also include Miami running back Henry Parrish, who recently went viral with an incredible run that showcased his elusiveness. Overall, Narduzzi nabbed 15 three-star and two four-star recruits, securing the No. 32 class of 2020 in the nation, according to Rivals.com. For comparison, that’s 18 spots ahead of last year’s recruiting class.
The summer wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for the Panthers, however, as disaster struck training camp on Aug. 9. Junior defensive end Rashad Weaver suffered a torn ACL during a practice drill and will miss the entire upcoming season as a result. The injury is particularly devastating to the Panthers, considering that Weaver was set to be their most dominant player after leading the team with 14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 2018.
While the football team overachieved on the recruiting trail, Pitt basketball didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations set upon the program at the start of summer.
When four-star forward Gerald Drumgoole committed to Pitt last February, fans figured that more highly touted recruits would join him at Pitt. Capel maintained that momentum by adding three-star forwards Karim Coulibaly and Justin Champagnie last school year.
When the academic year ended, Capel and the Panthers were reportedly in the mix to add several high-profile recruits over the summer. Sure, they missed out on center Ibrahima Diallo in April, but most assumed they’d get Khadim Sy, Julian Champagnie, Oliver Robinson-Nkamhoua or Josaphat Bilau. Long story short, Pitt struck out on every single one.
Instead, the Panthers’ main additions over the summer were a pair of transfer students. Junior Ryan Murphy committed to Pitt on May 8 after playing the previous season at New Mexico Junior College, where he established himself as a capable outside shooter and the nation’s No. 46 junior college prospect. Capel also got another big man to add depth to Pitt’s frontcourt, as 6-foot-9, 250-pound graduate transfer Eric Hamilton joined the Panthers from UNC Greensboro on May 15.
Overall, Pitt’s 2019 recruiting class finished No. 11 in the ACC and No. 50 in the nation after being ranked No. 5 and No. 32, respectively, the previous year.
Pitt baseball saw three of its former players — pitchers Dan Hammer and Derek West, along with outfielder Connor Perry — selected on the final day of the Major League Baseball Draft on June 6.
Hammer was the first of the bunch to go, as the Baltimore Orioles took the righty in the 13th round with the 378th overall pick. Hammer’s junior season wasn’t spectacular — he achieved a 6.55 ERA over 17 appearances — but he finished his Pitt career eighth in program history with 189 strikeouts, so the Orioles took a gamble on his potential.
The Houston Astros selected West in the very next round with the 436th overall pick. Like Hammer, West was a right-handed pitcher who decided to forego his final year of eligibility with the Panthers. West already declared for the draft the prior year and was chosen by the Atlanta Braves at 832nd overall, but decided to return to Pitt for his junior year. West led the Panthers with 82 strikeouts in 2019 to go with a formidable 3.82 ERA over 68.1 innings pitched.
Perry was the last Panther taken, as the Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 28th round with the 832nd overall pick. As a senior in 2019, Perry led all Pitt batters with 57 runs and 15 home runs while also manning center field.
Though it won’t field a team until 2021, Pitt women’s lacrosse does have a coach. Athletic director Heather Lyke announced on June 28 that Emily Boissonneault will be the one to oversee the Panthers as they develop the varsity program from the ground up.
Boissonneault previously served as an assistant and then associate head coach at James Madison University. During her time on the coaching staff, the Dukes won three Colonial Athletic Association championships, along with a national championship in 2018. Her experience at the highest level should undoubtedly go a long way as Pitt tries to start a new program from scratch.