Pennsylvania produced a lot of high-caliber recruits in the class of 2021, and unlike most seasons in recent memory, it wasn’t a class dominated by recruits from out east.
The WPIAL produced four consensus four-star recruits and a number of talented, highly sought-after three-star commits, too. It was enough for Pat Narduzzi to declare that, at the time, it was the strongest crop of recruits he’d seen from the WPIAL.
“This is as good of a class that has been intact in this state of Pennsylvania since I’ve been here,” Narduzzi told reporters in 2020. “We have had a lot of Pennsylvania kids on this campus. … This year is a heck of a year in the state of Pennsylvania, which makes me sleep a little bit better knowing that there are players in our backyard this year, again as good as it’s been in five years.”
Pitt landed Dayon Hayes in the class of 2020, who Narduzzi named as the best in the state, but the class as a whole paled in comparison to the depth of the class of 2021.
The only class that rivals Pitt’s 2021 recruiting class (which was ranked 28th by 247Sports and 21st by Rivals) is the 2016 class. The 2021 class featured:
- Elliot Donald — four-star defensive tackle from Pittsburgh Central Catholic
- Nahki Johnson — four-star defensive end from West Mifflin
- Dorien Ford — three-star defensive tackle from Baldwin
- Stephon Hall — three-star safety from Central Valley
- (M.J. Devonshire — transfer cornerback from Aliquippa by way of Kentucky)
That’s four WPIAL stars (five if former Alquippa star M.J. Devonshire is counted after transferring back home from Kentucky), and it was ultimately just a small portion of the talent that was available in the class of 2021. Which, of course, is Narduzzi’s best class.
Derrick Davis — a four-star safety from Gateway — committed to LSU, and Donovan McMillon — a four-star safety from Peters Township — committed to Florida. Both were in-state talents highly sought-after by Pitt, rated as top recruits nationwide.
Washington’s Andre Porter committed to Maryland, North Allegheny’s Khalil Dinkins committed to Penn State, New Castle’s Aaron Gunn committed to Louisville and Beaver Falls’ Josh Hough committed to Syracuse.
Aside from maybe Dinkins, who gained steam for Penn State as the season wore on, the class as a whole hasn’t made too much of an impact yet. Davis, McMillon and Hough have all entered the transfer portal since the end of the regular season.
But if the 2023 season started today, there’s a chance that Donald and Johnson would start at defensive tackle and defensive end, respectively, for Pitt.
There’s a long way to go to get to the 2023 season, but it’s clear that Donald and Johnson will have roles to play, maybe even starting roles — alongside Hayes and Devonshire. Ford and Hall will also fight for increased roles in the defensive scheme.
Coincidentally, after both Davis and McMillon entered the transfer portal over the last week, Pitt is in the mix for the former local stars.
Davis is likely looking for a fresh start at running back going forward, after making the switch during his final month with LSU, and McMillon likely just wants increased playing time in the secondary. Pitt was in on both originally, and while it obviously didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean it can’t this time around.
Donald, Johnson, Ford and Hall have spent two seasons in Pitt’s system, growing into their respective spots in the defense, and associate head coach/defensive line coach Charlie Partridge has watched the players in his unit evolve.
“Dorien (Ford) is still continuing to evolve, Elliot (Donald), although he’s traveling with us and getting those reps, he’s still in that developmental phase and doing some nice things,” Partridge said in November. “There’s a lot of good things that I’m seeing from those young guys.”
Interestingly enough, Partridge didn’t mention Johnson then when he was asked about the young members of his defensive line. Johnson played the same number of defensive snaps as Donald in 2022 (36), but it feels like Johnson has taken a step.
It remains to be seen what happens with Davis and McMillon — and Hough, Gunn and Porter — but Pitt’s foursome of defensive talent has competed hard enough to earn legitimate consideration. Donald and Johnson, especially, appear to be primed for increased roles.
And who knows if Davis and McMillon may contribute at Pitt in 2023 and beyond.
This also comes without mentioning a couple of key Pitt contributors in Javon McIntyre (Philadelphia) and Gavin Bartholomew (Schuylkill Haven) from Pennsylvania. In-state recruiting proved very, very fruitful for Pitt in 2021.