Pitt didn’t land Shayne Simon as a four-star recruit out of high school, despite tight ends coach Tim Salem’s best efforts, but Pat Narduzzi didn’t miss a second time around.
Simon, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound inside linebacker who committed to Notre Dame out of St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey from the class of 2018, played through four up-and-down seasons in South Bend before entering the transfer portal in December. After an afternoon visit to Pittsburgh, he committed to Pitt a few days later.
In speaking to Pitt media for the first time Wednesday at Pitt’s South Side facility, Simon touched upon his original recruiting process, the strangeness of the transfer portal and what he hopes to bring to Pitt’s defense in 2022.
Obviously, Simon didn’t commit to Pitt originally, but he still remembered the connection he made with Salem and how Pitt’s culture felt similar to the one he felt at St. Peter’s.
“Specifically, I remember coach Salem,” Simon said. “He always sends pictures of Pitt football and that’s what I first remember of him and him coming to the facility at my high school. … I remember that process and feeling like Pitt was similar to how my high school was.”
When Simon committed to Pitt before the 2018 season, pledging himself to Notre Dame in July of 2017, Pitt was about to embark upon a 5-7 season, and in Simon’s first season at ND, Pitt put together a 7-7 season. In just the time he’s been at ND, he saw the progress made under Narduzzi.
“I saw that Pitt was a great school, great program, and I think the years I’ve been in college, they’ve grown in my eyes,” Simon said. “Obviously peaked last year winning the ACC championship.”
While Notre Dame has played well with Simon on the roster, he wasn’t ever able to gain any consistency and his playing time never reached the levels he would’ve wanted. In 15 games, he recorded 26 tackles (12 solo), three tackles for loss and five passes defended in limited snaps.
In 2021, Simon didn’t see the field, and he entered the transfer portal after Notre Dame’s win over Stanford. It was a weird, quick process that ended with Pitt.
“I went in at the end of our Stanford game, and it was kinda a weird environment the first couple of days,” Simon said. “I was talking to a bunch of different schools and Pitt kinda came in towards the end. Got to visit them and see what this was all about and fell in love.”
Simon’s visit to Pitt was quick, spending an afternoon in Pitt, and while the glitz and glamor of high school recruiting visits weren’t there, he went with clear objectives in mind.
“Even in my visit here, I only came for an afternoon, you don’t get to see everything, you don’t get to go do a photoshoot or all the extra stuff … so, I kinda knew that I wanted to get in, meet the coaches, watch film, see how the coaches coach and obviously see how the environment around here is,” Simon said.
A couple of days later, Simon officially committed to Pitt over interest from other Power Five programs.
While Simon had the familiarity with Pitt from his high school recruitment, he remembered the college games when Notre Dame and Pitt faced off — and while it was a brutal game for Pitt in a 45-3 loss, Simon remembered hearing all about Pitt’s vaunted run defense.
“I remember we played Pitt two years ago in the COVID year,” Simon said. “One of our lead things going into the week was Pitt was the No. 1 defense in the country in run defense. They get after everybody and they’re physically attacking. … So, obviously hearing about it and being able to see it on my visit and see it as of now watching film and everything, they play fast.”
It was a similar defense in 2021 to the one that Simon saw firsthand in 2020, and he said he has a few things he wants to tweak in order to fit the system, but he’s confident in his ability to play fast in the system.
And while Simon is a good fit in Pitt’s system, he’s also a much, much-needed fit. Pitt’s linebacking corps is dangerously thin after graduating Johnny Petrishen and Phil Campbell III and losing Cam Bright to the transfer portal.
With Campbell having occupied the Money linebacker slot last season, Simon said he’d fit in as Pitt’s Money option in 2022, alongside Mike linebacker SirVocea Dennis.
“(Dennis is) a great player,” Simon said. “I mean, just watching him on film, he makes plays. He’s a ball-hawk as a linebacker, so seeing how he’s able to affect the game has been crazy and I just want to hopefully line up next with him and go make plays with him.”
Along with Dennis returning after a very strong junior season, Bangally Kamara is expected to take the next step and emerge as Pitt’s starting Star linebacker in 2022. With Simon, Dennis and Kamara occupying the starting lineup, it’s an athletic, talented unit with potential.
And while the linebackers will be looking to build rapport and chemistry in 2022, the defensive front ahead of them will be just as strong as ever. The NCAA’s second-leading unit at getting to the quarterback returns almost the entire unit, and a couple of younger stars will be looking to take the next step toward stardom.
“(The defensive linemen) were monsters two years ago, and they’ve been monsters ever since,” Simon said. “I think the focus has been to play fast and shoot and be aggressive, so we can kind fit off them to go play. I like being able to play off guys that play hard.”
With Randy Bates running Pitt’s defense, with some heavy influence from Narduzzi and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, there are a lot of influential names in Pitt’s defensive room. One of those is linebackers coaching Ryan Manalac, who Simon is looking forward to learning under.
“He’s a great guy,” Simon said. “I enjoy his energy, his tempo and I think he wants to invest in us the tools to go make plays. And then give us the freedom to actually do them. He doesn’t want to have us become robots, but he wants us to be quick with everything we need to do in order to make all the plays on the field.”
While it was a tough decision for Simon to leave Notre Dame, exiting his home over the last four years and some of his best friends, he had to make the best decision he felt possible. And Pitt just so happened to offer that potential.