What started as some exchanged messages ended with Cooper Ackerman stepping out of the tunnel at Heinz Field Saturday like an NFL player.
Ackerman, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end/defensive end at Shrewsberry High School in Massachusetts, received an invite to Pitt’s spring practices from about a month ago.
It led to the rising 2024 athlete making an unofficial visit to Pittsburgh for the first time and he was able to speak more in depth with Pitt tight ends coach Tim Salem and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge — spending more time with Salem, despite his desire to narrow his focus to defense at the next level.
After walking through Heinz Field after arriving Saturday, a brief tour of the locker rooms led to Ackerman and his fellow visiting recruits walking out of the tunnels and onto the field — which, Ackerman said, is a lot different when you’re down at field level.
With the desire to continue his development as a defensive end, despite his success as a big-bodied tight end as a sophomore letter winner at Shrewsberry, he took care to note the intensity of Pitt’s defensive line and how he’d be able to incorporate what he learned into his own game.
“When you’re up close, it’s a lot different,” Ackerman told PSN. “You really see how physical they are. You see all the details you don’t really see when you’re further away, you listen to them on the sidelines. Every few minutes when they would have meetings with their position, you hear what they’re talking about — they’re giving each other tips, moves, all this stuff on the sideline. It was a lot of stuff that, watching, I could learn and try to pick up and try and use when I play.”
Ackerman is well-aware of not only Pitt’s ability to put players into the NFL, notably at tight end and defensive end, in his case but Pitt’s penchant for getting after opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis, each and every season. A unit that leads college football in sacks is something Ackerman will consider when narrowing down his eventual choices.
While Ackerman didn’t get to speak with Partridge too much, viewing Pitt’s defensive line coach as a very in-depth coach with a strong bond with his players, he was able to get a lot of time with Salem.
The pair talked academics, of course, but also just what Salem’s role is around the team on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. And, of course, Salem had to remind Ackerman how Pitt has only had two seasons since Salem has been at the helm of the tight ends room without a tight end making it to the NFL.
It was a strong first impression for DiBiaso, Salem, Partridge and Pitt as a whole, enough to make Ackerman want to return for another visit. But before he does, his schedule will be loaded with Rutgers next weekend and potential visits with Massachusetts, Boston College and Harvard for now — and maybe Pitt for a future camp.
“Their first impression was great,” Ackerman said. “I mean, I love the coaching staff, for what we saw of the campus, I liked driving through it on our way to Heinz. We stopped at (the Cathedral of Learning). The location was cool. It was my first time being in Pittsburgh, I liked it. It would definitely be a school that is high up on my list.”
While Ackerman doesn’t have an official offer from Pitt yet, with a strong camp performance this summer, that could all change.