National Signing Day is like Christmas morning for some college football fans, eagerly refreshing the Twitter feed for any news of a hard commit making things official and hoping to come across an update that a key target flipped his commitment to their school.
It wasn’t the biggest haul for Pitt fans on Signing Day morning, but it was a successful day with a few nice surprises. And like an Amazon Wishlist that got delayed before Christmas, the delivery truck has kept pulling up.
Pitt secured all 10 original members of its modest 2022 recruiting class and added two more key recruits in the cycle, bumping its recruiting class to 64th in the nation and 11th in ACC football. It’s a far cry from 2021’s stellar class, but with a lot of returners taking up scholarships in 2022, it’s a class that’s filled with early potential — and head coach Pat Narduzzi didn’t rule out any late signings.
“As we start to see what’s happening and things open up or don’t open up, then we’ll know what our numbers are,” Narduzzi said. “There will be a couple more. We’ll have a couple of weekends in January. We’ll have some priority walk-ons in as well. We expect to have a couple more. We’ll just see how the roster — can’t sign 90, unfortunately. I would like to have 100, but they won’t let us do that.”
With another veteran-laden squad returning next season, but some key losses to replace, Pitt will need to reload in an ACC that still should be relatively open next season. And the 2022 recruiting class will give Narduzzi and his staff the chance to prove that the recruiting department can continue to make the most out of mid-level recruits.
With a quality over quantity approach to the 2022 recruiting class, it’ll come down to whether the Pitt coaching staff found the right fits and is able to develop those fits into Bonafide difference-makers on the football field.
Pitt’s 2021 success came on the heels of the coaching staff being able to take unheralded recruits and develop them into legitimate players — and superstars in some cases.
Pitt’s success this season obviously came from the strides made by Kenny Pickett, but Pickett himself was a mid-level three-star recruit who took an entire college career to reach his potential. It’s wishful thinking to hope for every quarterback after Pickett to reach his level of success, but if the right sort of prospect is brought in and developed, why can’t Pitt experience ACC titles every couple of years instead of… well, never?
It’s not as if Pickett was surrounded by four- and five-star teammates either. Aside from Jordan Addison, a four-star in 2020, the majority of Pickett’s help has been three-star level recruits.
The Pitt offensive line this season, with the exception of Marcus Minor, a transfer from Maryland, was developed in-house over a number of years. Carter Warren, a three-star in his own right, was the highest of the bunch, but Jake Kradel was a mid-level three-star and Gabe Houy and Owen Drexel were both low-level three-stars.
Addison was the best wide receiver in college football this season, but even he was recruited as a defensive back by some schools. Pitt’s staff made the right call, and he thrived in Pitt’s system over the last two seasons. Jared Wayne and Taysir Mack complemented Addison, and while Mack was a transfer from Indiana, Wayne was another low-level three-star recruit.
The one-two punch of Lucas Krull and Gavin Bartholomew at tight end provided Pickett with additional security blankets, but Krull and Bartholomew couldn’t be more different in circumstance. Krull entered Pitt as a grad transfer from Florida while Bartholomew is a true freshman. And Bartholomew’s rise from a low-level three-star recruit to freshman All-American bodes well for the future of the position.
And with a three-headed monster at running back, Pitt has plenty of options. Vincent Davis in 2019, Israel Abanikanda in 2020 and Rodney Hammond Jr. in 2021 were all mid-level three-star recruits in their recruiting cycles, but all three served a sizeable role on Pitt’s 2021 squad — and all three will be back.
Pitt’s defense, which signed a handful of four-star defensive linemen last and usually pulls in high-level recruits every couple of seasons, operates in the same mold. With NFL talent leaving Pitt almost every season, a mix of three- and four-star talent comprising the aforementioned NFL talent, Pitt has reloaded each season along the defensive line.
Some key Pitt defenders — defensive back Brandon Hill, defensive lineman Calijah Kancey, defensive back A.J. Woods, linebacker SirVocea Dennis, defensive lineman John Morgan, defensive lineman Habakkuk Baldonado, defensive back Erick Hallett, defensive back Damarri Mathis and linebacker Cam Bright — were unheralded out of high school.
Dennis wasn’t even a three-star recruit out of high school, rating as the 3,130th-ranked recruit in the class of 2019, but he’s emerged as an indispensable force in Pitt’s linebacking corps. The pass-rushing duo of Kancey — an AP All-American — and Baldonado were both low-level three-star recruits.
So, while Pitt’s 2022 recruiting class isn’t highly ranked or loaded with top four-star recruits, the class could still wind up with key contributors, and the transfer contributors will likely be even bigger contributors.
Of course, it starts with USC transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis. While Slovis was a three-star quarterback out of Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, he immediately jumped onto the scene and replaced five-star J.T. Daniels. While Slovis’s Trojans’ career fizzled out, he still experienced a lot of success while at the helm of USC football.
Slovis threw for 7,576 yards and 58 touchdowns on 652-of-953 pass attempts at USC, including 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns on 72 percent passing as a true freshman. He’s shown the capability to lead a high-powered offense.
And with Slovis in place as Pitt’s most important replacement, a couple of other transfers will immediately slot into Pitt’s lineup with big expectations and big shoes to fill.
Joining Addison and a strong receiving corps, Akron’s Konata Mumpfield will look to build on a very, very strong freshman season. As a low three-star recruit out of Dacula High School in Dacula, Georgia, Mumpfield didn’t have many offers, but he immediately burst onto the scene with the Zips.
Mumpfield racked up 751 yards and eight touchdowns on 63 receptions as a true freshman, providing one of the lone bright spots for a poor Akron team. Built in the same mold as someone like Addison, standing at 6-foot-1, 178 pounds, Mumpfield operated mainly from the outside with the Zips and should immediately fill a hole left by Taysir Mack’s NFL exit.
The lone defensive transfer so far, Michigan State’s Michael Dowell, will also likely be thrust into a starting role next season.
While Dowell played as a safety and nickelback for the Spartans last season, he will likely convert to linebacker and fill the STAR slot — a la John Petrishen after his transfer from Penn State.
Dowell recorded 40 tackles (26 solo), two tackles for loss and defended three passes last season for the Spartans, finding his playing time slowly decrease as the season wore on. While Michigan State’s pass defense was infamously bad last season, Dowell graded out as one of the better defensive backs.
And even with the addition of Dowell, Narduzzi and his staff are still looking at other transfer linebackers — including Virginia’s Weeks West.
With Pitt’s small recruiting class not drawing much attention — although Narduzzi pointed to someone like wide receiver Addison Copeland as being able to potentially make an early impact — in comparison to the transfer additions, it’s highly possible that it’s the best of both worlds for Pitt.
As a large group of super-seniors returns, Pitt added 12 solid high schoolers and has scoured the transfer portal for a starting quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and potentially more to come. It’s been very good work for Narduzzi’s staff.