Pat Narduzzi and staff will be exceptionally busy this weekend. They will be hosting an unprecedented amount of players from the south on official visits. Looking over the list of visitors, the majority of the group are Floridians. To gain better perspective on many of the visitors, Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with Florida recruiting guru / legend Larry Blustein (@larryblustein on Twitter). He has nearly 50 years of experience in the south Florida media and he’s the senior writer for SFHSSports.com (@SFHSSports). Blustein is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of almost every prospect in Florida.
Linebacker Khadry Jackson (6-foot-2 inches, 200 pounds) from Windermere Preparatory School (Orlando, FL)
Another good one. You look at your defensive coaching staff and these kids need to be in the molds of the guys that they’ve been recruiting the last two, three years. They’re not going to compromise. They saw what they could do. (Pitt) came up with big wins over the last couple of years. Khadry is a little bigger than Leslie (Smith). He’s not as quick as Leslie, but he’s bigger. He’s a player that could really blow up. You’ll see schools like Florida, Michigan, and Mississippi State potentially going after him at some point. Like Leslie, he’s a player that’s only going to get bigger and could be a force at outside linebacker. By their sophomore years, guys like Khadry and Leslie could be program changers. They know how to compete. They don’t want to be sitting on the bench.
Those two kids (Smith and Jackson) from Florida, you get that swag. They don’t ever want to back down against anybody. Pittsburgh area has that too. They have those type of kids who busted butts. They know. It’s a mutual admiration. They’ll fit in real well.
Offensive Lineman Julian Hernandez (6-foot-3 inches, 290 pounds) from St. Thomas Aquinas (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
Good story on Julian. Here’s a kid that last year played at Western High School. They won the district. They went further than they had ever been before in school history. They’ve been open thirty-five, forty years. The thing about him is he was such a good lineman that he stood out. He caught the attention of Saint Thomas Aquinas, which is the Pittsburgh Central Catholic of our area. If you’re good, they’ll scoop you up. They’re a nationally rated team and he had an opportunity to go there and work with some other coaches.
I’ll tell you what, this kid has turned himself into a big time prospect. He’s always had that frame. He’s always had that athletic ability, but he really wasn’t coached the way he’s been over the last six, seven months as he’s been over at Saint Thomas about how to play the position. You have quality, NFL guys coaching there. Don’t underestimate the value of that. You get a guy like Jason Taylor and Sam Madison who were there coaching because their kids are there. They spot something on the offensive side of the ball that may help an offensive lineman. I thought last year, to be honest with you, maybe a MAC level or slightly higher kid. Maybe in between like a South or Central Florida recruit. He’s simply continued to improve and grow and moved himself into a Power 5 situation. I know the Pitt offensive line coach. The Pitt coaches have been watching Julian. They see what he has. With some growth and development, he could be a very good player in time.
Cornerback Tiawan Mullen (5-foot-11 inches, 165 pounds) from Coconut Creek HS (Conconut Creek, FL)
Tiawan is the brother of a kid that’s starting at Clemson next year in the secondary (Trayvon Mullen). One of the kids that were part of that Coconut Creek team back a couple years ago. This kid, the only reason why he probably wasn’t getting huge play early on is because of his size. He doesn’t weigh very much. I’m sure the Pittsburgh coaches realize he can grow from 155 or 160 pounds to 190 pounds pretty quickly. They’re not worried about it. He’s got good height. I think he’s really underrated especially in South Florida where national caliber defensive back are their forte. Taiwan has the potential to be an elite player. He’s got tremendous hips and knowledge of the game. He’s a kid, like many defensive backs in that area that goes one on one with some of the best wide receivers in the nation. He’s pretty much ready for action.
Somebody like that gets lost in the shuffle as being an elite player, which he is. He’s got tremendous hips. He’s got a knowledge of the game. Watching his brother growing up. Think about this too, Harry, this is important too. I know that a lot of the people that follow football but … [inaudible 00:08:15] year round, seven on seven to get some of the top wide receivers in the country and guys like that. He’s pretty much ready for action.
Tight End Nikolas Ognenovic (6-foot-6 inches, 240 pounds) from Cardinal Gibbons HS (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
Here’s a kid, you talk about a guy that has blown up in a year. Everybody calls him the Russian and then found out he wasn’t Russian. That was his nickname. They go, “Look at the big Russian.” I asked him one day at camp I go, “You’re Russian?” He goes, “No, no, no!” (Laughing) Ever since the spring, he’s gotten some good offers. Kentucky offered, Ole Miss offered. When you’re 6-foot-6 inches tall, you’re 240 pounds and somebody looks at you and says, “I could put another twenty-five, thirty pounds on that kid and he could be a first round draft pick.” He’s got everything you want. He’s like a sponge. He plays for a team like Cardinal Gibbons who could probably be one of the best in the state this year. He’s shown he can block. Nikolas can catch. He’s got big mittens. That’s the thing. You go to shake his hand, and it engulfs you. That’s the type of kid you like. He’s a good kid, a really mannerly.
Safety prospects Dane Belton (6-foot-1 inches, 185 pounds) from Jesuit HS (Tampa, FL) and Brandon Hill (6-foot, 190 pounds) from Wekiva HS (Apoka, FL)
Both players are good football talents. They are very athletic, intelligent kids as well. Good in the classroom. I’ve had an opportunity to watch both of them at camps. When you see them at camps, there’s no hiding. You go to those events. They call you out. Both of them we call ‘dogs’ due to their playmaking ability and aggression. They had a lot of dog in them. They never give up. They’re defensive minded. They have that mentality. As soon as they come into college, it’s not going to take that long to get them on the field
That’s the mark of Pittsburgh recruiting. You can see how the defensive coaches think. Both of these guys you have to project. You have to envision what they could be in a few years. They fit Pitt’s scheme really well. They did the same thing in the past with guys like Ricky Gary, Jabaal Sheard and Gus Mustakas. Neither of these kids will back down from competition. They are used to it. I can see them saying, “Get me in that rotation. I’m wearing the same uniform as you. Let’s go!”
Wide Receiver Darrell Harding (6-foot-4 inches, 195 pounds) from Winter Garden HS (West Orange, FL)
Darrell is a big time kid. I’ll tell you what, this kid stretches the field. I also saw him run out of the slot. The thing is, when you put a kid in who’s maybe a one or at the least a two in the slot and get him paired with a linebacker or a safety, that’s a recipe for good stuff. That’s what he does. He can move around on the field. That’s a versatile receiver.
In today’s ACC you have to have a kid that versatile to really succeed. He’s a guy who could take the top off secondary and maybe open it up underneath for people. He could be that underneath guy. Yeah. It’s one of those guys that’s a no-brainer. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s always excelled. He’s not one of those guys where you tell, “Hey watch this kid. Watch this kid.” They watch him and he drops a pass. He’s pretty much showtime. I like that about him.
Offensive lineman Kaleb Boateng (6-foot-5 inches, 290 pounds) from Ft. Lauderdale HS (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
I’ll tell you what. I’ve watched Kaleb since he was in the eighth grade. First of all, he’s just such a great kid. When he found out he was gaining attention, we had him on our radio show a couple of times. He’s very well spoken. His first offer I believe came from Georgia Tech. He was so over the moon by it. Ever since, I think he’s gotten forty offers.
He’s really grown up. Fort Lauderdale High is the oldest school in Broward County. They’ve never really been good in football. Over the last five, six years, they had an alumnus come back as head coach. They had most of their coaching staff are all Fort Lauderdale people. They kind of rally around it. Kaleb’s one of those kids. Kaleb comes in armed with about a 3.6-3.7 GPA. That’s gotten him to some of those higher academic schools for visits. He likes that as well. He’s a big, athletic lineman that has the intelligence and maturity to flourish in college.
Running back Daniel Carter (5-foot-11 inches, 185 pounds) from St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
Here’s one of those guys the proverbial youth football league legends. Daniel came out of South Florida. He was one of those backs, big time. He was also a linebacker at the same time. He plays in that backfield for Saint Thomas, like I said. It’s a really good program. He’s an alternative back. He’s a hard runner. He’s really not an outside guy, but he’s tackle to tackle guy. That’s a good thing. That’ll wear you down a little bit.
Daniel will be over 200 pounds by the time he gets into college. He’s got a good frame on him. He’s a guy that if he does get an angle on you, he’s not blazing fast. He’s fast enough. From the hips down, it’s tough to tackle him. You bounce off him. You got to come in high on him and hope that you can just ride him down. For some reason you can fall at his feet and he can jump over you. He’s a hard runner. He’s one of those guys … Saint Thomas guy for all four years. That means a lot. He’s been taught well.
Harry G. Psaros can be found on Twitter at @PittGuru