WAYNE, N.J. — When one thinks of Pitt football’s recruiting go-to’s, some familiar names come to mind. Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, Central Catholic, Clairton, Woodland Hills. Even outside of the WPIAL area, places like Erie and Northeast Ohio have traditionally been good to the Panthers.
Under the current regime they’re developing something of a reputation in Northern New Jersey and New York, as well.
Since 2015, Saleem Brightwell (Paterson, N.J.), Phil Campbell (South Brunswick, N.J.), Chris Clark (Ridgewood, N.J.), Maurice Ffrench (North Brunswick, N.J.), Justin Morgan (Bronx, N.Y.) and Elias Reynolds (Brooklyn, N.Y.) have joined the Panthers, and more are on the way.
The class of 2017 includes quarterback Kenny Pickett (Oakhurst, N.J.), center Owen Drexel (Montclair, N.J.) and now, offensive tackle Carter Warren, the seventh-ranked prospect in the state of New Jersey, who committed to Pitt last weekend.
The Garden State isn’t known as a college football hotbed. The only local school, Rutgers, hasn’t had a lot of historical success, and is currently mired in a two-season-long slump. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent to be had.
“Great players come from New Jersey,” Warren said in an exclusive interview this week. “Not too many people give us credit, though.”
Warren cited players such as Michigan’s Jabril Peppers and Rashan Gary, but there are plenty at the next level, as well. Victor Cruz, Malcolm Jenkins, Greg Olsen and Tambi Hali come to mind. But not having a dominant in-state program has left the top New Jersey players scattered.
Maybe with this current Pitt connection, that’s starting to change.
“This area has been good to Pitt and Pitt has been good to them,” said Warren’s head coach, Matt Demarest. “Coach [Tim] Salem has done a heck of a job.”
Salem is the team’s primary recruiter in the Northeast and recently tweeted that he’d been spending so much time in the New Jersey that he was going to have to start paying taxes there. The time — and the situation at Pitt — is paying off.
“They’re in a position where the only kids that are going to have to play are the ones that are really ready to roll,” Demarest said.
While some may consider that a negative, he considers it a positive influence on sending a player into that program, knowing that they’ll be able to develop at the proper rate.
“For a guy like [Warren], it gives him the ability to fight to get on the field,” Demarest said. “And if he doesn’t get on the field, it’s because there are guys that are more experienced than he is. That’s good for him”
That willingness to fight and the desire to prove something could be considered a trait of the residents of the region, as well.
“I wanted to prove something,” Warren said. “I didn’t have to go to Catholic School to get a whole bunch of offers.”
Warren certainly did that, as he picked up 20 Division I offers, including a bunch of top Power Five schools such as Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Syracuse.
What it came down to for Warren was the opportunity and the familiar setting at Pitt. Like Pittsburgh, Patterson and Passaic are industrial cities with blue-collar mentalities.
“It just felt like home to me,” he said. “That played a big part in it.”
The other part is the relationships he had with Brightwell, Drexel and Morgan that convinced him Pitt was a place that deserved a closer look.
“As soon as I got there, they showed me love from the door, and I thought it had to be the place for me,” Warren said.
The other attraction to Pitt is the ability to develop into an NFL-caliber lineman. Between Matt Canada’s offense and the tutelage of John Peterson, Warren and his coach see a big-time opportunity. Warren took it upon himself to add extra weight sessions to his preparation and trains with a lineman-specific coach outside of his team’s practices.
The process of watching Warren grow had been a rewarding one for Demarest.
“Everybody sees he finished product,” he said. “It’s nice to see how he’s grown up. Linemen have to deal with a lot of stuff other people don’t have to deal with. You’re 6-foot-6. You’re the biggest guy on the field. Everybody sees you every play. When you’re that big as a freshman, your body isn’t ready for that yet.’
Now all that’s left is to see where that work takes him.