Winning on home turf: Pat Narduzzi’s energy while recruiting impressing Western PA coaches

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Winning on home turf: Pat Narduzzi’s energy while recruiting impressing Western PA coaches

By Jeremy Tepper / Staff Writer

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As a former player, Eric Kasperowicz keeps close tabs on Pitt’s football team — and for good reason.

Kasperowicz, now Pine-Richland High School’s head football coach, is responsible for helping his top players transition to the college level and therefore has to keep tight relations with college recruiters. He has seen several Pitt coaches come and go since Dave Wannstedt resigned in 2010, with the departures of Mike Haywood, Todd Graham and Paul Chryst. Naturally, it would be understandable for him to be skeptical about Pitt’s first-year head coach, Pat Narduzzi — however he has unmitigated praise for Narduzzi since his arrival in Pittsburgh.

“Coach Narduzzi’s a perfect fit at this point and time for Pitt,” Kasperowicz said. “There hasn’t been this much buzz around the Pitt football program in the past four, five hires, since Coach Wannstedt left.”

Kasperowicz isn’t the only Western Pennsylvania high school coach to hold that opinion. Coaches from all around the area have been floored by Narduzzi’s work while at Pitt.

George Novak, Woodland Hills’ head football coach, praised the efforts on the recruiting trail of the first-time head coach.

“I’m very impressed with [Narduzzi and his staff], with their demeanor, the way they’re recruiting. I think they’re going to do very well at Pitt,” Novak said.

Others have highlighted the vigor that Narduzzi and his staff display while recruiting as an impressive trait.

Pete Wagner, Baldwin’s head football coach, said “there’s a sincere energy and air of everything they do.”

This level of enthusiasm has been making waves around the area.

Bill Cherpak, longtime Thomas Jefferson High School head football coach and Pitt alum, was succinct in describing his feelings on Narduzzi and his staff.

“Exciting. It really is,” Cherpak said.

It’s no surprise that area coaches are speaking highly of Narduzzi and his staff, as the first-year coach has made it a priority to build strong relations with high school coaches immediately after his hiring this past December.

“Within the first few days [of being hired] Coach Narduzzi called [me],” Cherpak said. “They were on it quick, especially with some of the coaches that have big time recruits this year.”

Wagner added that Narduzzi and his staff have constantly been in contact with him and other coaches and players around the area, continuously making stops at school and inviting them to practices. The hopeful end result for the staff is to develop a stronghold on Western Pennsylvania recruits.

“They’re trying to cater a bit more to the WPIAL schools and build that fortress around the WPIAL overall, and rightly so,” Wagner said. “There’s a lot of talent here, and it starts with building pride with kids in your own area.”

Along the way of getting in contact with coaches around Pennsylvania, Narduzzi has reached out to alumni and fans, which, along with a strong social media presence, has been effective in conjuring up excitement.

Kasperowicz said that the new coaching staff’s emphasis on social media and ability to connect with fans has impressed him.

“They’re just making their presence known here in Pittsburgh that ‘This is our state, and we’re looking forward to dominating it,’” he said.

Wagner spoke highly of new linebackers coach Rob Harley, as the 32-year-old has shown he has the potential to be a dynamo of a recruiter.

“Coach Harley [recruits] our school and, quite frankly, he’s been awesome,” Wagner said. “He’s a young guy with a hell of a lot of energy. He’s confident in what he’s doing, and I think he relates to young kids well.”

Cherpak noted that Narduzzi’s energy is in stark contrast to Pitt’s previous coach, Paul Chryst, who didn’t quite have the same charisma as Narduzzi.

“I loved Coach Chryst. I thought he was awesome. They’re just totally different people,” Cherpak said. “Coach Chryst was more X’s and O’s, would rather watch film and do football stuff, while coach Narduzzi, he’s aggressive, he’s out recruiting, he’s out doing appearances and stuff like that.”

Cherpak added that Narduzzi’s style will lend itself to success.

“The aggressive recruiting style that they have will benefit them,” Cherpak said.

With this aggressive recruiting, Wagner said Narduzzi and his staff have been able to get to recruits early and “sell their brand and get feet on campus.”

Wagner, too, said Narduzzi’s assertive recruiting style will pay dividends, though he noted that winning will be most important in making a leap in recruiting.

While Pitt has had success in pulling top players in Western Pennsylvania, including Tyler Boyd, Jordan Whitehead and Dorian Johnson, it also lost several highly-touted, local recruits to out-of-state schools, such as Robert Foster choosing Alabama in 2012 or Montae Nicholson opting for Michigan State two Decembers ago. Cherpak said Narduzzi’s aggressiveness on the recruiting trail will befit him toward changing that.

“I think the perception had been, probably rightly so, that they couldn’t get the big players out of the WPIAL,” Cherpak said. “I think that’s going to be the biggest difference, where you start seeing some of the high profile kids, instead of it being Ohio State or Penn State, Pitt will always be in the mix now.”

Some coaches, Cherpak said, would cut their losses and limit their time recruiting a certain player if he was being pursued by perceived big-time schools. Narduzzi, though, will not submit to any school, Cherpak said.

“Narduzzi’s not backing down to anybody,” he said.

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