If there’s one position that’s been emblematic of the up-and-down nature of Pitt’s recruiting over the last few years, it’s been tight end.
When Pat Narduzzi took over in 2015, he inherited a talented duo of local products in Shaler grad J.P. Holtz and Seton La Salle’s Scott Orndoff. Holtz graduated in 2015 and handed the torch to Orndoff in 2016, before both moved on to the NFL.
Since then, it’s been a revolving door of transfers in and out as Pitt has yet to find a consistent replacement.
In 2017, Rutgers graudate transfer Matt Flanagan started while UCLA transfer Chris Clark worked his way into the rotation after sitting out his first year at Pitt. Three freshmen: Neshannock’s Tyler Sear, Pine-Richland’s Grant Carrigan and Steubenville’s Charles Reeves provided depth.
But in 2018, most of that depth vanished. Flanagan graduated. Clark transferred to Towson after spring practice, Reeves was dismissed and moved for Youngstown State over the summer and Sear left the team mid-way through the season for personal reasons.
Meanwhile, further efforts to re-stock the team had been met with fits and starts. Class of 2018 tight end Jay Symonds committed to Pitt, only to de-commit to attend Stanford. The same thing happened with fellow Class of 2018 tight end Michael Alaimo, who ended up going to UCLA.
In the Class of 2019, Pitt landed a commitment from the No. 2 junior college tight end in the country, Travis Koontz, only for him to de-commit from Pitt and end up at Texas Tech.
After Sear’s departure last season, Carrigan, former walk-on Jim Medure, converted tackle Carson Van Lynn and Arkansas graduate transfer Will Gragg got most of the playing time, but none of them really acquitted themselves as a legitimate passing target.
Gragg had five catches for 31 yards. Medure had 3 for 29. No one else caught a ball all season.
This spring brought renewed hope that under new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, Carrigan and Gragg can form a useful blocking and catching tandem at the position. Incoming freshman Jason Collier from New Jersey is an impressive blocker. But Pitt still has lacks a true all-around tight end.
That might have changed with a commitment of Josh Rawlings from Woodland Hills over the weekend, but Rawlings, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound, consensus three-star tight end, picked Virginia over Pitt and a bunch of other offers, including Indiana, Iowa State, Maryland, Minnesota, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Virginia and West Virginia.
Instead, the Panthers seem to be back to the drawing board. Rawlings was the only tight end that took an official visit to Pitt over the two recruiting weekends in June.
There are several uncommitted tight ends that still hold Pitt offers in the Class of 2020 at tight end: four-star Maliq Carr (Oak Park, Michigan) and three-stars Joe Royer (Cincinnati), Clay Caudill (Mansfield, Ohio), Jalen Williams (Apopka, Florida), Sam Daugstrup (Cleveland), Charles Finley (Wayne, N.J.) and unranked prospect Carter Boatwright (Moultrie, Ga.).
Missing out on Rawlings won’t be an issue if Pitt is able to land one of those players.
They also might find some help for the 2019 season internally. Pittsburgh Sports Now has learned that Pitt’s current intention is for incoming freshman Kyi Wright to play at tight end, instead of linebacker, giving the Panthers another top athlete at the position.