Of Pitt’s 12 signees from the class of 2022, six of them will be enrolling early. With half a year of acclimating to both the college experience and the football program, it’s an excellent opportunity to jump into their freshman seasons with a leg up.
While it’s still unknown what the degree of impact this class will have on Pitt football, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi feels like every player that signed will be able to make an impact of some kind — some sooner than others.
As “mid-year” entry players, all of the Pitt early enrollees will be enrolled in class starting on Jan. 10.
Sean FitzSimmons — DL from Central Valley in Monaca, Pa.
FitzSimmons (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) is a back-to-back champion from Central Valley High School. He’s Pitt’s only in-state recruit in the 2022 cycle, and Narduzzi feels like he embodies what it means to be a Panther.
“Boy, again, he’s a Pittsburgh tough kid,” Narduzzi said. “You watch play inside the box. He’s a leader, number one. He’s aggressive. He’s physical and he’s tough. When you look back (at Pitt’s wall of attributes), attitude? He’s got it. Effort, toughness, knowledge. We got a guy from our backyard that embodies all of those things before he even gets here.”
With a history of developing defensive lineman at Pitt, Narduzzi said he’s excited to see what defensive line coach Charlie Partridge can do with FitzSimmons. And with 49 tackles for loss and 21 sacks as a senior, FitzSimmons earned the “game-wrecker” reputation in high school.
Samuel Okunlola — DL from Thayer Academy in Brockton, Ma.
Okunlola (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) was the final signing that Pitt picked up on Wednesday, a “battle until the end with him,” Narduzzi said.
A highly sought-after recruit from Thayer Academy (with 52 offers from Power Five schools all across the country), Okunlola choose Pitt over Georgia, Auburn, Michigan and others.
Okunlola caught seven passes as a senior, racking up 222 yards and two touchdowns, but his future lies in getting after the quarterback as a rusher off the edge. While MaxPreps doesn’t list Thayer’s defensive stats, he served as the Tigers’ leading pass rusher.
Another key future piece of Pitt’s defensive line, Narduzzi lauded his intelligence and athleticism.
Addison Copeland — WR from Maritime High School in Buffalo, N.Y.
Narduzzi had a chance to watch Addison (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) live this season, and it really opened his eyes. In watching Copeland run wide receiver coach Brennan Marion’s drills and watching him compete one-on-one against defenders, Narduzzi felt very good about Copeland’s chances of contributing early.
“They’re not necessarily going against the Damarri Mathis’s and Marquis Williams’s in those drills, but it’s all comparative,” Narduzzi said. “(Copeland’s) just, like, wow. He was just impressive in everything he did there, and he was already committed to us, but he walked out, you are, like, wow, he is special.”
With some experienced depth leaving in the form of some senior wide receivers, the addition of Copeland as an early enrollee should bode well for his chances of making a quick impact in Pitt’s strong wide receivers room.
Ryland Gandy — DB from Buford High School in Buford, Ga.
Another high school state champion, Gandy (6-foot-0, 170 pounds) is the only defensive back signee in Pitt’s 2022 class.
Narduzzi visited a Buford football practice last week, before the GHSA 6A championship game that Buford won 21-20, and he saw a long, athletic corner that fits in well with Pitt’s defensive scheme.
Ryan Baer — OL from North High School in Eastlake, Oh.
Baer (6-foot-6, 335 pounds) is the highest-rated signee in Pitt’s 2022 class. A hulking offensive tackle that chose Pitt over Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan State, Baer could be thrust into action early depending on the returners on the Panthers’ offensive line.
Narduzzi built a relationship with Baer’s father through some early morning phone calls, and with Baer himself through a couple of visits — including an unofficial visit that Baer scheduled after canceling a Notre Dame visit.
With excellent size and pedigree, and now an early enrollment at Pitt, Baer could be one of the first of the 2022 signees to make an impact on the field.
Sam Vander Haar — P from Prokick in Australia
With incumbent punter Kirk Christo not returning next season, Vander Haar will be among those competing to replace the long-time starter.
Already 24 years old, with the Prokick pedigree, Vander Haar should likely be considered the favorite to land the job next season. 247Sports rated Vander Haar as the sixth-ranked punter in the 2022 class.