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June 27, 2005

Pitt defending its turf

Using a knowledgeable staff with a championship pedigree, Dave Wannstedt's homecoming to the University of Pittsburgh has been highlighted thus far by a strong commitment by the former Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears head coach to keep the local talent at home.

The Panthers have seven verbal commitments so far for the class of 2006, all from the Keystone State. The current crop is highlighted by Rivals100 selection Dorin Dickerson and standout defensive tackle Jason Pinkston.

"I think they are doing a great job overall and doing what (former Pitt and current Stanford coach) Walt Harris was able to do early in his tenure, but at a higher level," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. " Pittsburgh has been, at times, an area where huge programs could spot recruits and steal kids away because there wasn't a strong enough presence at Pitt to keep them at home.

"Clearly now there is that strong presence in Wannstedt based on the commitments of players like Pinkston and Dickerson."

Dickerson, from West Allegheny High School in the Pittsburgh area, committed June 23. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound athlete was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 82 prospect in the country, regardless of position. Dickerson will play wide receiver for Pitt and chose the Panthers ahead of New Year's Day bowl teams Iowa, Michigan and Tennessee and ahead of Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators.

Pinkston, from Pittsburgh's Baldwin High School (Wannstedt's alma mater), committed to the Panthers on Friday. The powerful defensive tackle prospect was impressed by the school's academics and by the coaching staff.

"Their medical academics are really good for me and that'll be a great help. That's what I want to pursue in college," Pinkston told Rivals.com. "The coaching staff there is really good too and almost everyone on their staff knows what it takes to get things done and win a Super Bowl or something.

"The fact that coach Wannstedt is there helped a lot in my decision."

Pinkston's comment about the staff rings true when you look at the history of Wannstedt and some of his assistants. Wannstedt, a former Pitt player, was a young assistant on Johnny Majors' staff in 1976, the last time the Panthers won the national championship. He followed then-Pitt assistant Jimmy Johnson to Oklahoma State and ultimately to Miami (Fla.), where the pair captured the 1987 national title.

Johnson took Wannstedt with him to the Dallas Cowboys and won a Super Bowl before the current Panthers coach took over as the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

"(Wannstedt) is originally from Western Pennsylvania," Pantherlair.com publisher Jim Snyder said. "He's made the statement that Pitt is serious about recruiting."

Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was the quarterback on that 1976 championship team and also was a member of the Baltimore Ravens staff that won Super Bowl XXXV.

Pinkston's teammate, defensive end Justin Hargrove also pledged to Pitt on Monday night. Hargrove, a 6-foot-4, 242-pound outside linebacker/defensive end, is the No. 25 player in the state of Pennsylvania.

One of the criticisms of Harris was that he did not recruit Western Pennsylvania with the same enthusiasm as he did other areas. That has changed under Wannstedt, who spent two weeks during the May evaluation period visiting Western Pennsylvania high schools.

"He visited four high schools a day," Snyder said. "Even the ones that didn't have Division I prospects for this year."

The Panthers staff has a local flair with strong ties to the school, and that, without question, has helped in nabbing some of the top in-state talent this early.

Assistant head coach Bob Junko, who also coaches defensive tackles, is in the eighth year of his second stint at Pitt, having also served at the school from 1982-85. Junko, whose recruiting area is Western Pennsylvania, landed Dickerson, Pinkston and Pittsburgh Thomas Jefferson linebacker Nate Nix, the state's No. 39 overall prospect.

Linebackers coach Curtis Bray, who has landed Monroeville linebacker Dan Loheyde, the state's No. 17 overall prospect, Murrysville defensive tackle John Malecki, the state. No. 22 prospect and Johnstown defensive tackle Scott Corson, the state's No. 42 prospect, was a linebacker at the school from 1988-91.

The man heading up the recruiting effort also has a long history with the area. Recruiting coordinator Greg Gattuson was hired at Pitt after compiling a 97-32 record at neighboring Duquense University.

The staff has other targets throughout the Keystone State who the Panthers are involved with. Monroville Gateway athlete Aaron Smith and Harmony quarterback Kevan Smith both are being heavily courted by Pittsburgh. Junko and Cavanaugh are co-recruiting Kevan Smith while Bray is on Aaron Smith.

Junko also is the recruiting coach for Pittsburgh Woodland Hills linebacker Greg Webster. It was reported by Pittsburgh-area television stations that Webster will commit to the Panthers during the next 24 hours, giving Pitt five commits in five days. Webster is an important recruit for the Panthers. His teammate, five-star Darrin Walls is rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 cornerback prospect in the country and the No. 2 overall prospect in the state of Pennsylvania.

Walls has Pittsburgh in his top four, along with Florida, Notre Dame and Michigan. It is an understatement to say that Walls would be the crown jewel in this recruiting class should he choose to stay home and play for the Panthers.

Farrell adds that Wannstedt understands that the best way to lose homegrown recruits is to assume that they will want to stay at home and play for Pitt, no matter what.

"He's assembled a very strong, energetic staff that outworks others and takes nothing for granted," Farrell said. "Wannstedt gets it, pure and simple, and he has done a great job so far."

For complete coverage of University of Pittsburgh football, please visit Pantherlair.com



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