Mitch DeZort may not yet be a household name when it comes to the top recruits in the WPIAL, but that hasn’t stopped the rising junior from Highlands High School from catching the attention of a growing list of D1 programs that includes Stanford, Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh.
After spending his sophomore year away from football, DeZort returned to the gridiron and wasted little time establishing himself as one of the top players in the WPIAL. In fact, his play might make him one of the better outside linebacker recruits in the state and a hidden gem in the the talent rich class of 2017.
DeZort spent some time with Pittsburgh Sports Now’s Gar Bercury to discuss his path to football stardom, his recent visit to Pitt and what an offer from his hometown program would mean, and the dream of possibly playing college football with some of his closest friends.
Pittsburgh Sports Now–You transferred from Pittsburgh Central Catholic after your freshman year back to Highlands, that must have been a tough decision for you. What factored into the decision?
Mitch DeZort–It was definitely tough moving back after making many good friends and the football tradition down there. There were so many good people at the school, but it was tough making the tuition payment and the drive was about an hour every day. In the end that’s why I decided to come back.
PSN–Once you came back to Highlands, you actually did not play football as a sophomore. Were there any specific reasons for that and what made you decide to come back to the game this year?
MD–At the time basketball was going really well and I was getting some interest from colleges. I was playing against some of the better competition in the country with my AAU team but I did still really miss football and I felt like I needed to get back to into it.
I had a lot of family members and friends who also kept pushing me to go back.I missed it and honestly I do somewhat regret not playing my sophomore year but I am really glad I was able to come back and play to the best of my ability this past season.
PSN–There’s been interest from colleges in basketball for a while now. However, you had a huge year in football and are considered a rising prospect in the sport. Knowing that the interest continues to grow from D1 programs, do you feel like you might be leaning towards football for college?
MD–I’m definitely heading in the direction of football. I was getting some Ivy League interest for basketball but after this season with football I’ve been receiving some interest from the Pac-12 and ACC schools. Plus, I really had a lot of fun playing football and having success with my friends so I’m definitely ready to open things up with football.
PSN–Things are certainly heating up with football from a recruiting standpoint. That’s pretty common for most juniors and seniors. With you getting back into the game this year, do you feel like you maybe just started to pop up on college programs radar recently?
MD–Yeah it definitely ramped up quickly. About week three of this past season I started to get some interest from some smaller schools at the FCS level and then a few weeks later, Stanford is coming to my school to visit. A week later I’m hearing from Pitt and Maryland. It’s all happened pretty quickly but I’m really grateful for that.
PSN–At this point in the process, what schools are showing the most interest in you so far?
MD– Stanford, Pitt and probably Toledo would be the three biggest right now. I’m heading to Toledo this weekend for their Junior Day.
PSN–Speaking of Junior Day, last weekend you were able to be a part of the University of Pittsburgh’s edition of it. How was the overall experience?
MD–It was a unique experience. My Mom attended Pitt and though she did not participate in athletics, she always talks about the academic side and how much she loved her experience there. So for me to be able to go down there and actually see all the new facilities and team rooms on the South Side was awesome.
Meeting all the coaches on the the staff again was great, they have a ton of knowledge. Heading to the Pete was fun, it was a packed house when they played Virginia and it was a crazy atmosphere–just a neat experience overall.
PSN–Getting to spend some time with Coach (Pat) Narduzzi and the staff, what was the overall impression of them?
MD–I really loved how they really focused on the WPIAL group. When we toured the facilities they kept all the WPIAL guys together. It was really unique and cool and they grouped us together and took us around. It made you feel like they had a lot of focus on the local (WPIAL) kids and trying to build on that over the coming years.
PSN–It’s clear you are on Pitt’s radar and a rising prospect with them and you just referenced the importance Coach Narduzzi has placed on local talent in the WPIAL. That must make a big impression on you guys going through the recruiting process?
MD–My Dad and I have talked about that since I was in like fourth or fifth grade–He always mentioned about the talent in this area and how it’s some of the best in the entire country. It’s great to see Pitt understand that you don’t just have to go to Florida, California or Texas for kids, some of the best talent is right here.
We have some of the top kids in the country and to see Pitt get some big time commits like Jordan (Whitehead) and my good friend Damar Hamlin shows that Coach Narduzzi knows what they have to offer.
PSN–I know you are tight with a number of Pitt recruits including Steel Valley defensive back Paris Ford who committed early to the Panthers and Central Catholic standouts Kurt “Braeden” Hinish and David Adams who is your best friend. How fun is going through this process with them and do you guys talk much about possibly playing together in college?
MD–Oh yeah. Me, Paris, David, Hinish and bunch of other guys like Kenny Robinson–who is another good friend–we talk about the endless possibilities we could have. David and I honestly talk every talk every day about the possibilities in front of us at different programs but especially at Pitt.
We could make something really special and not a lot of people have the opportunity like this with a such a good group of friends. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that three of my closest friends are among the top 300 recruits in the country. The possibility of playing with them for your hometown school where everyone can see you is really something to seriously think about.
PSN–Your best friend (David Adams) is one of the top inside linebacker recruits in the nation and you are quickly becoming one of the better outside linebacker prospects in the state. Sounds like a pretty great start to a linebacking corps don’t you think?
MD–Freshman year with played together at Central and it was always a dream for us. In elementary school we would always battle back and forth in basketball but we always talked about how cool it would be to play together as we got older.
It was so great playing together as freshman. To have your best friend to your right, to have Paris playing corner right next to me, Kenny (Robinson) behind me at safety, Hinish in front of me at defensive tackle it was awesome and it would be great to bring that back together for college.
PSN–My lord that must have been one heck of a freshman team?
MD–It most definitely was.
PSN–What would an offer from the University of Pittsburgh mean to you and would that make them a favorite for you in the recruiting process?
MD–Yes, they would definitely be one of my top choices if I am blessed to get an offer. It’s always something special to get an offer from the local school and knowing my Mom and a number of my family members went there makes it even more.
Everything that Coach Narduzzi is doing has changed my opinion and a lot of other opinions of the program. Four or five years ago, we’d go to a Pitt game and there was really no excitement around the program and they were playing tight games against lesser programs. Now they are playing top teams in the country and competing in the ACC. I give a lot of that credit to Coach Narduzzi and his staff for that.