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Panthers class of 2011 includes surprise local addition

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It is anticipated and inevitable. When a new coach comes in, bringing with him entirely new staff and schemes, there will be a turnover with incoming recruits. And when you go through two new coaching staffs in the span of a couple weeks, that turnover becomes an all-out evacuation.

Within hours of being introduced, new Pitt head coach Todd Graham was already working the phones, attempting to rekindle the once strong – but quickly severed – relationship with the WPIAL’s best.  His two-week predecessor, Mike Haywood, made no such attempt, and in a span of several days broke down a relationship that former coach Dave Wannstedt spent six years cultivating.  Considering that 12 of the 22 starters from the 2010 season were from western Pennsylvania, that wasn’t a bad area for Graham to start.

But as a result of athletic director Steve Pederson’s game of coaching musical chairs, the Panthers’ 2011 recruiting class remained in limbo until National Signing Day on February 2. Although Graham’s window to recruit was a small one, he made no excuses at his introduction press conference when he pronounced hopes of making this recruiting class “the best ever.”

The reality is that in most cases, recruits sign on with coaches, not universities. So when Wannstedt was forced to resign, most of his class also abandoned ship.  In all, 13 high school seniors rescinded on their verbal commitments, including two local standouts in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Player of the Year Desimon Green of Clairton, who opened his recruitment, and Woodland Hills product Lafayette Pitts, who appeared ready to follow former offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and DB coach Jeff Hafley to Rutgers.

Graham ultimately was able to convince Pitts that Pitt was it, though, as he was a surprise commitment on signing day. Green, though, ultimately chose Texas Tech.

The process also worked in Pitt’s favor in some cases, as several Tulsa recruits followed Graham to Oakland. Running backs Corey Davis (below right), from Gladewater, Texas, and Isaac Bennett, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, both jumped ship from Tulsa to be a part of Graham’s fast-paced offense. In fact, the majority of recruits that Graham was able to bring in for visits were those that were castoffs from other schools in similar coaching situations.  

Graham’s first class won’t come close to challenging the best in the nation, and probably won’t even approach the top half of the conference. But by reestablishing local ties and bringing along a few recruits from his former backyard, Graham has settled the waters of what seemed like a situation destined for disaster a mere four weeks ago.

Isaac Bennett, RB (5-11, 190), Tulsa, OK/Booker T. Washington
Jeremiah Bryson, RB (5-8, 173) Smyrna, TN/Smyrna
Lloyd Carrington, CB (6-0, 180) Dallas, TX/Lincoln
Sam Collura, TE (6-3, 250) Hyattsville, MD/DeMatha
Devin Cook, TE/DE (6-4, 225) Beaver Falls, PA/Beaver Falls
Malcolm Crockett, RB (5-11, 180), Washington D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy
Corey Davis, RB (5-11, 180), Gladewater, TX/Gladewater
Zenel Demhasaj, OL (6-7, 320), Garden City, NY/Nassau C.C.
Jason Frimpong, ATH (5-11, 180) Irving, TX/Irving Macarthur School
Nicholas Grigsby, LB (6-2, 210) Trotwood, OH/Trotwood-Madison HS
Justin Jackson, WR (6-4, 195) Daphne, Alabama/Daphne HS
Ronald Jones, WR (5-7, 160) Fort Meade, FL/Fort Meade
Khaynin Mosley-Smith, DT (6-1, 275), New Berlin, NY/Milford Academy
Darius Patton, WR (5-10, 170), Poland, OH/Poland Seminary
Jevonte Pitts, DB (5-10, 175) Pittsburgh, PA/Woodland Hills
Lafayette Pitts, CB (5-11, 185) Pittsburgh, PA/Woodland Hills
Artie Rowell, OL (6-2, 296), Harrisburg, PA/Central Dauphin
Roderick Ryles, DB (6-1, 185) Orlando, FL/Dr. Phillips
LaQuentin Smith, LB (6-1, 205) Orlando, FL/Dr. Phillips
Steve Williams, DB (6-2, 195) Savannah, GA/Calvary Baptist

DT Khaynin Mosley-Smith

Last year he was labeled as an “under the radar”-type player, but was ruled academically ineligible.  He has the power and speed to help fill some holes that have opened up on the defensive line.

RB Malcolm Crockett

A de-commit from Cincinnati, Crockett could be an ideal back to play in Graham’s offense. He isn’t as shifty as Dion Lewis, but has good straight-line speed and can create mismatches in the passing game as well.  

LB LaQuentin Smith

Smith (left) has very questionable size for a linebacker, but he could be a perfect fit in Graham's speed-based defense. He had offers from Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan, Purdue and over a dozen other schools.

Most of Pitt's elite recruits jumped ship during the coaching odyssey, as RB Jameel Poteat changed his commitment to Cincinnati; cornerback Kyshoen Jarrett is headed to Virginia Tech; New Jersey athlete Bill Belton and Dallastown linebacker Ben Kline have committed to Penn State; WR Justin Olack committed to Toledo; QB Gary Nova and defensive linemen Max Issaka and Marquis Wright all chose Rutgers; DB Terrell Chestnut will play for WVU; DE Deonte Gibson committed to Northwestern; Clairton product Desimon Green is going to Texas Tech.

In addition to Mosley-Smith on the defensive line, every running back in the class (Bennett, Bryson, Crockett and Davis) will be competing to back-up starting tailback Ray Graham – the lone scholarship running back on the roster.

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