ALIQUIPPA, Pa. — Pat Narduzzi didn’t get his man.
After spending weeks doing just about everything possible — including bringing Pitt’s equipment truck to a home visit — to attempt to lure Aliquippa defensive back MJ Devonshire, the young corner chose Kentucky on Wednesday.
Devonshire told Pittsburgh Sports Now that he fell in love with Kentucky on his official visit and his strong relationship with head coach Mark Stoops was a difference-maker.
His departure for the SEC means that Pitt did not land any of the three four-star local players in the 2019 class, something that is at best a concerning trend and one that has greatly contributed to the angst of many Pitt fans.
But recruiting is all about personal preference. It’s hard for me to hold it against Narduzzi because a certain few kids wanted to go to college somewhere else.
If Andrew Kristofic really wanted to play for Notre Dame and Joey Porter, Jr. really wanted to play for Penn State and Devonshire really wanted to play for Kentucky, there’s not a lot else that can be done.
I’ve written many times about how the WPIAL is too thin and too heavily recruited for Pitt to make its living with local players, and this year just happened to be an exaggeration of that trend, with not only no five-star players and three four-star players, but fewer Power Five-level players overall. Just eight WPIAL players signed with Power Five schools in this class after 13 did in 2018, 14 in 2017 and 13 in 2016.
So, there are reasons for the lack of 412 phone numbers in the team directory, and many of them good ones. It’s not Narduzzi’s responsibility to fill Pitt’s locker room with local players, it’s his responsibility to win football games.
If there’s something for Pitt fans to be up in arms about, it ought to be the lack of overall quality in Pitt’s recruiting class, especially when it appeared to be poised for success.
The Panthers got a dozen commitments in June and had 15 before the 2018 football season ever started. Narduzzi wrapped up Pitt’s class at 19 players after the singing of Sirvocea Dennis and Nolan Ulizio on Wednesday.
Pitt had six months to pick and choose the best players the staff wanted to target with those handful of scholarships at the end of the class — something that Narduzzi has excelled at in his time at Pitt.
In 2018, he laded a commitment from four-star running back Mychale Salahuddin on signing day. In 2017, it was four-star running back AJ Davis and defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman coming on late in the period, and in 2016, it was Keyshon Camp, Damar Hamlin and Rashad Weaver.
This year, there was nothing, save for Ulizio, who was a three-star recruit before getting to Michigan and Dennis, who is a two-star recruit that had de-committed from Air Force.
Those two might turn out to be the type of potential game-changers that Pitt added late in its previous classes. But they don’t currently look like it.
Pitt’s Class of 2019 is currently ranked No. 52 in the country, according to 247 Sports — the lowest-rated of Narduzzi’s tenure. Georgia Tech and West Virginia fired their head coaches and were still able to put together higher-ranked classes.
Recruiting is a long game. Most of the players that signed on Wednesday won’t make an impact for years . It’s certainly possible that they’ll be more impactful than they currently appear to be.
But in general, if there’s a trend that should be bothering the fanbase, it’s the overall lack of top-level talent and not where they’re coming from.