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December 20, 2017

Pat Narduzzi

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

PAT NARDUZZI: I guess the first of the signing period of the 2018 class had some great times in the meeting room today just talking with family and parents and obviously the student-athlete. Really excited about the class we have coming in. I think everybody gets excited when they come in. There's still a ton of work to do. It's a process. This is just a step -- the first step to the process of getting here, now there's a lot of learning for them to go through. Some guys will be rated here, and I don't know where all the stars are. Chris does all those things. We just look for players on tape, but there's a lot of development that still needs to go into these individuals, and again, as you guys know, there's high expectations at the University of Pittsburgh for where we want to go, and these guys are a big part of it. We're excited to have them in today.

Let me give you some quick facts with the class so far. We've got 15 signees as you probably saw on your sheet, and I don't want to bore you with some of the things that are on there. You guys can read it and type it and do those things.

But we expect maybe to get one more later this afternoon, so stay by your phones. Don't have a holiday drink, and by the way, happy holidays to everybody in here. Usually don't get to do this this early, but 15 signees and give me hope if we're lucky enough, fortunate enough to get another one. Of those 15 signees, I think it's always interesting that 14 of them were captains. 14 captains, which gives you a little bit of leadership and different level leadership. We've got to step it up to the next level, but different leaders there.

Six on offense, nine on defense as far as what we got, and again, some of those guys are multiple athletes that can go both sides of the ball. As you know, we'll play them on both sides of the ball and we'll coach them on both sides of the ball.

14 of the 15 are from the East Coast, from the ACC or Atlantic Coast area. We got one from the California area in Ricky Town. Two junior college prospects as well as one transfer, I guess. We got three mid-year players that will be here in January, be moving into their dorms. If you guys are interested in hanging out by the dorms someday, but they'll be moving in in January for classes. A quarterback obviously was a huge need and one that we worked hard at getting, and two offensive linemen which we'll get some great development there.

We've got guys from eight different states in this class. We first, as you guys know, try to hit our backyard and try to get whatever we can get out of the Pennsylvania area, Pittsburgh area, get into Ohio, Jersey, Maryland, D.C. area, but as it goes, we got six kids from Pennsylvania, five from the Western Pennsylvania area, two Maryland kids from the same high school in DeMatha. Great high school down in Maryland; if there's a place to get them, that's where you want to go. Two from Florida, and again, we may get some more from down there as January moves on. We got one from New Jersey in Nick Patti. We got an Ohio player, Tyler Bentley. One from Virginia, Wendell Davis; Cameron O'Neil from Alabama and then one of the final ones here, Ricky Town, we were able to land.

As far as just our needs, I think as news people you're always looking at what do they need, and we're also kind of like the NFL, we're going to take the best available out there. As time goes on, you start to look at what's available, do we get our needs, what do we actually need, but we ended up getting, where it starts, seven power guys. It starts up front, so out of that 15, seven of them are the big dudes that will create power up front, and it starts up there with the O-line and the D-line. We've got two big skill guys. I think when you look at our backfield, you look at the guys that have running the football. You look at our linebackers, we got a lot of guys that you haven't seen on tape yet. We felt pretty good there, so we didn't think we had a huge need for the big skill guys, unless it was best available.

And then we ended up really getting six skill guys, receiver, DB, quarterback type guys that are important.

You know, just to talk briefly just about the class itself, December 1st or -- December signing, first time that we've had to do it at that time, and it's always a learning curve with it. But overall, as a head coach, you look at the first time going through this December period, it's always interesting. I think there's good things and bad things about it. For our coaching staff to be able to relax during the holidays and know that we're pretty much through, there will be still some work to do. We're still going to go out there -- there's always change going on, and we'll find out who's on side, and we still have a couple needs, some leftover scholarships that we'll be looking to fill, so we'll continue there.

But I'm sure you guys will have questions about the December signing. One of the biggest things you see when you go through this early signing is where do you go. There's still some homes that I have not been in yet. I think that's one of the negatives. We try to pick and choose where I needed to go. There's a strategy to where you go. But whether it's a hometown kid or going down to Florida or Georgia, wherever it may be, we try to strategically plan where we go and how we do that, but I think that's a hard thing when you don't have the entire month. Never have I gotten to a signing day where I wasn't in the kid's house, so you had to feel pretty good about who that guy was, and we did, and there will be some longer home visits in January with those guys really to make up for it, and we've had those conversations as we've gone through.

I think the quality of student-athlete that we've got coming in maybe is as fine a class as we've brought in just academically speaking, just the social, the families. I can't say enough about the families and the homes we've been in, the kids that have been on campus. We've got a great group of kids and support around them, so I think we're really good as far as that goes.

I want to say thank you to a bunch of people, and there will be a lot of people I'll forget, but it starts off with just all the high school coaches out there that helped us with this signing class, all the administrators, all the principals that we walked in and bugged them. You know, you ring that bell at all the high schools and they let you in, and coach, where are you from, can sign in here, can I get you a badge, all those people that have to put up with us coming into those schools. I thank all of them to start off with.

I thank our class, the kids that trusted in what we're doing, had the faith in who we are as people, and it comes down to relationships and recruiting, and we talk a lot about that, and the guys that signed with us value relationships and maybe some of the ones that didn't don't value those as much. We're okay with that. But I want to thank those.

Our coaching staff and all their families with all the sacrifices they give up to sign these guys to be in their homes, to be away from their families so long, to Heather Lyke and Christian Spears and our entire athletic department so involved in our recruiting process. Usually we're on our little island, we're bringing them in and every once in a while, hey, can you maybe talk to a kid here. But every day these guys were there. Heather spearheaded -- she started the weekend off on a Friday just talking to the parents about college life and what she expects from these players and their families as the process goes on, so I thank Heather for that, and Christian came on Saturday and did a great job, and Penny and all our academic staff and Mike and Tanaya and Keith and John all do a great job.

All our -- probably the key to the whole thing is our current players, all our hosts. Every weekend those guys will -- on a Friday and Saturday night sacrifice their time to get around these kids, and I think they enjoy it to be honest with you because they're really trying to find out who they are. We investigate our hosts to find out, hey, what did you think of this guy, does he fit in, do you like him, and I think those are all important things. But I thank those guys for taking the time to do that because I know they have a busy schedule.

Last guy really to thank is Mark Harding up in admissions. He does a great job with our kids when we bring them in, and he's done that for two years. He does an incredible job with them.

With that, I'm just going to quickly, quickly, and I know you guys have questions, hit some of our guys here alphabetically. First one is Tyler Bentley from Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio, right outside of Cincinnati. We've wanted this guy for a long time. We really called him all year. He was committed to another institution, and we stayed on him to our benefit. We thought he was a big, athletic guy that would help us on the D-line, and we just stayed persistent. Could never get him on campus all summer, couldn't get him to camp, couldn't get him here. Finally got him here for an official visit. We're happy to have Tyler with us.

Chase Brown, a very athletic offensive tackle, mature. He had some maturity. He'll be here mid-year with us, but he's a big, athletic guy that is going to come in and have a chance to compete immediately mainly because he's coming in mid-year.

V'Lique Carter from Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida, again, a guy that was committed to another institution, athletic. Again, I could probably say that about every one of these or we wouldn't recruit him. But a playmaker, a guy that -- a funny story about him is it was probably hard to get him up here, and again, I don't give our coaches enough credit for what they do, but I know Coach Partridge was heavy on this guy, but I don't know if we would have got him up here. I think he had reservations on the plane coming up on the trip, like what am I doing. But I think the Fort Pitt tunnel, when he came through the Fort Pitt tunnel, and bang, Pittsburgh hit him, I think that's really what sold him, so V'Lique from Oxbridge Academy, we're happy to have him.

Devin Danielson, Thomas Jefferson, Pittsburgh guy. Coach Bill Cherpak obviously coached him, so we know we've got a former Pitt man that's developed him, one of the best coaches in the area. But Devin is a guy that have not been in his home yet. Looking forward to getting in there in January. He came to camp, had a dominant senior year. He's physical, he's tough, he's everything you want in a defensive lineman.

Wendell Davis, linebacker from Benedictine College in Virginia. He's probably one of the quietest guys in our class. He will walk through the door and you'll see one part of it, and then when he gets on the field the guy is like the hawk, so he really turns it loose. But Wendell is a middle linebacker probably for us. I think he can play the money, and we're looking forward to having him on campus here soon.

Next one, David Green, Pittsburgh Central Catholic. He's right out our back door here. Obviously Terry Totten is his coach, and we're happy to have another Central Catholic football player in our program, and this kid is a hard worker. I don't care if it's on the field, off the field. If you want to see all the Christmas tree decorations over at Kennywood, he's probably over there working right now. He probably signed the papers and went to work, so he's one of those blue collar Pittsburgh kids that is a worker, and again, on the field, off the field. We appreciate having him.

Jake Kradel, again, a mid-year signee that was in camp. When I look back at our camps, Devin Danielson was in camp, Wendell Davis was in camp, David Green we had in camp, and Jake Kradel was in camp, so we certainly have some guys that we've seen physically do it on our fields out back, but Jake is, again, a mid-year guy that is a tough, physical guy, can run, and he's a guy that's loved Pittsburgh from the beginning. We appreciate his loyalty to us.

Next guy, John Morgan, DeMatha Catholic High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, is where he's from. Again, as I said earlier, just one of the best high schools in the state of Maryland. Recruited a couple guys out of there in the past. John Morgan not only came to one camp but he came to two. He came back for more, and he looked better the second camp than he did the first camp, and we offered him off of his first camp, and he said, Coach, I want to come back for more, so that tells you where he is and what he's all about. We're looking forward to having John here.

Cameron O'Neil is a guy we did not have in camp from Glenwood School in Alabama. He was a guy that came during the summer with mom and dad. Great people. That's kind of what sold us on him. We watched his junior tape and loved it; we saw his senior tape, loved it more, and he'll add to our receiver room as an athlete.

Noah Palmer, again, another guy from Thomas Jefferson, so we pulled two from Coach Cherpak, a Jefferson Hill, PA, kid. Again, another guy that came to camp, put on a show for us, and again, is a Pitt man. Even though he hasn't graduated yet, he is a Pittsburgh guy, and we're glad to have him.

Next guy, another DeMatha Catholic, another Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Judson Tallandier. Again, a big, long athlete, probably one of our taller corners, could be a free safety, play anywhere in the secondary probably. He's athletic. We've had him in camp, saw how well he tested and ran, and we're happy to have Judson here.

The next guy, mid-year guy, late notice, as a matter of fact, we brought him in in the dark, no one knew he was coming I don't think -- Chris, did you know? We brought him in the dark, nobody knew. He was a surprise visit. We worked hard to get him here on campus. He actually left another visit to come on our visit, which I give him a lot of credit because that's not easy to do, and as any kid we didn't want him to do that, but with the late notice we had with a spot at the quarterback, it became almost a critical situation, and I don't think we could have came through this thing any better than we did with Ricky. Haven't been out to his house yet out in California, but we'll get there in January. But he's a guy that fits into our system. Almost speaks the same terms right now, and we're looking forward to seeing him in early January.

The next guy, again, Marquis Williams, a DB from Cardinal Gibbons High School in Pompano Beach, Florida. One of the two visitors during the season, and we're not -- we loved this kid; that's why we let him come in during the season, but we're not big into bringing guys on campus during the season, and again, there's several reasons, but one of the main ones is the focus is not recruiting. I know I don't do a good job of focusing on them because our focus is usually the guys that are sitting in this room in here, but we've got a game to play and our focus is locked into that. During the season I don't really care, but this young man had to based on his playing schedule, his calendar, expected to get into the playoffs and go a long way there, so we visited him during the season, and I didn't get to know him as much as I wanted to during the visit, but he's a heck of a player. He's a heck of a person. I know our coaches have been in his home, and I'm going to spend a lot of time with him in our visit in January.

And then the last one, probably our best recruit, so I'll save the best for last here, Blake Zubovic, big O-lineman from Belle Vernon, PA, Belle Vernon High School. Just a powerful, explosive guy that had a little ankle injury during his senior year that slowed him down just a little bit, then he came back hard and strong, but a great football player. And again, probably a guy that kept everything together with our recruiting class. When we're watching ball, he's on the outside recruiting, so he's got a great personality and does a great job, and I said last, but I missed one, didn't I, because I knew I did. I probably saved maybe the next best. When you talk leaders, when you talk leaders, probably one of our best leaders. He's already shown a ton of leadership through the recruiting process, some of the messages and telephone calls I've had with this young man have been incredible, but a quarterback from St. Joe's Regional in Westwood, New Jersey, Nick Patti is a tremendous football player. Reminds me a lot of a Kirk Cousins type guy. He's going to be a special player for us. And again, he's a true, true leader, and will be a future captain here without any question. I don't have any doubt about it. That's kind of what I've got. I'll open it up for questions. I'm sure you've got a few.

Q. I think you said two big skill guys. Obviously Wendell Davis would be one. Who would be the other one, Palmer?
PAT NARDUZZI: I'd say probably big skill, I counted him in there with John Morgan just being an athletic guy. I think he could be a standup linebacker, rush off the edge. I think John is the other one I counted in that big skill. He's going to be an elite rusher off the edge. I think he's going to be a force, just really having him for two camps and some guys you see more than others, we were able to evaluate that guy, and I think he came back and learned some things on an unofficial visit, and then I think he came back and worked with Coach Partridge for another camp, and then he took some of those things, he went home, he learned, he came back again, and he came back even better. It's like, this guy is like a sponge picking up knowledge. So I think he's a guy that can maybe put some pressure on quarterbacks in this conference.

Q. You mentioned it was the first time for this process, first time for you guys, first time for recruits. Were there any surprises to you, whether it was leading up to the day --
PAT NARDUZZI: No, there were no surprises. I think there's a lot of pressure on these kids. These are hard decisions, even for guys that it was easy. I talked to one that said my mom was sweating this morning. It's not easy. You feel like you're signing a scholarship, but you feel like you're signing your son away when a parent puts a signature down there, and you'd better be signing him to the right people, and his mom was obviously really happy, but it's like a big thing.

I think there's just not as much time for these young men to grow up and really think about it, and I would say, and you guys will figure it out, but I'd say 85 to 90 percent of the kids probably signed today. I think next year it's going to be 100 percent. I think it'll just be the new signing unfortunately. I can't say it's a great thing. For me, I like it because we kind of can close the books on 15 guys or maybe hopefully another one tonight or something, but I think it's good for that.

But there's a lot of pressure for these kids to make decisions, and we're not one to ever pressure. When a kid walks in the door -- that's why we don't have really any decommitments through really 10, 12 years of coaching and recruiting. Kids don't decommit because you don't pressure them. There's always going to be that guy that is like, Coach, I think I want to come to Pitt. Well, think is not good enough. I don't want a guy that thinks. I want a guy that knows, that's going to blow through those doors if he's got to knock the hinges off that door to get here and do it, and if you think -- I'm not a guy saying, hey, listen, you have to. Take your time. We've got another signing period down the road, and to be honest with you, the first Wednesday in February has always been a date that is not a three-day window, okay, it's been a date that really goes until the end of March really. So there's a month and a half that you can continue to think about it and go with it.

Sometimes I think we push these kids, we push them on the field at a young age and we push them right through your life, push them through college, graduate early, go to the NFL and go do this. Slow down, these are some of the best days of your life.

Q. What did you think about Ricky in the recruiting process, and did he come on your radar before Benny's transfer or after?
PAT NARDUZZI: He was on our radar because I think all good recruiting staffs and coaches kind of have it out there, but we really didn't think we were going to lose two. We thought it was going to be one quarterback. Had discussions with both of them. Both of them I understand what they had to do, and we want the best for those guys because they're great kids and great people, but we kind of didn't think, probably until Thursday, okay, of that last weekend for recruiting that we were going to have a true need for a mid-year. At that point the wheels started to turn, but we had a list. But you never investigate the list because you're worried about the other list because you've got a lot of lists, but we just -- Coach Watson did a heck of a job, and Mike Parrish, our offensive GA that works with the quarterbacks, did a heck of a job with our recruiting staff of just developing them, pulling them out and making a ton of phone calls to investigate -- we can watch the videotape and we can pull it up there and watch the videotape, but it's all the other things that you're looking for that have to fit to make that quarterback room right. He fit in, period. I think he'll walk in there and those guys are just going to be like this is another one of our guys he's been here for a while. It was a perfect fit. Didn't take long to figure it out. I'm glad it didn't take long because we didn't have long. I think we brought him in late Saturday night, spent all day Sunday with him or most of the morning with him, and interviewed him really, brought him in without an offer, and didn't take long for us to over a Fathead cheeseburger to figure it out.

Q. Your last game you played your freshman quarterback, looked like he sort of seized an opportunity. How do you approach it with a guy who's got two years to play -- what's the sales pitch, I guess?
PAT NARDUZZI: Well, I mean, I think with anything, what makes your football team great is competition, okay, and if anybody is afraid of competition, then we've got problems. If you're always looking like who's that guy behind me, oh, no. Kenny is a competitor. I think Ricky is a competitor. I think Nick Patti is a competitor. We've got guys that want to compete. What you want at that quarterback spot is guys that want to compete. If you're just going to stay the same and you want to be a backup, that's great, but I want a guy that wants to push Kenny. Kenny is our starting quarterback right now and Ricky is coming in to challenge for us and make him better, and it's going to make everybody in this room a better person, a better coach, a better team. He's a competitor, and we're excited to get him here.

Q. The kids who came before today and didn't sign with anybody, what's your thought process on those guys?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know what, it's going to be reevaluated. There's obviously some guys that were committed out there to schools all over the country. I don't know how many. But my thing is I don't want to put any pressure on anybody and say, we're not going to take you if you don't sign. It's got to be the right fit and it's got to be for the right reason. But you can't blame somebody for getting cold feet because it's not easy. These kids, it's not just them, okay, but they've got parents in their ears, they've got coaches, they've got trainers, they've got everybody. They've got the nurse. I mean, who knows who's in the ear, the principal, assistant principal. There's all kinds of kids talking to these players and changing their mind, shopping them around, whatever it may be. Things like that happen, but you know what, I'd rather it happen now than after signing day or in the first week of doubles. To me it's better right where it is, and to me, it's a beautiful thing.

Q. Do you feel like in the last week you have a pretty good idea where all of your guys stood coming into today?
PAT NARDUZZI: Coming into today there was not one surprise. We've got great communication from every coach on our staff to me with our kids. Didn't have any surprises today. I won't be surprised tonight. I feel pretty good. We knew who we had. Like I said, I didn't sit here sweating driving in this morning going, God, wonder if he's going to sign. I felt pretty confident that the guys we thought were going to were going to, and obviously I encouraged guys if you're not sure, don't.

Q. You talked about the pressure on the kids. What's been the pressure like on your staff and not just these guys but everybody over there, guys that check kids' grades and things like that to get this done?
PAT NARDUZZI: Great question. I mean, that's the fear of this whole thing being sped up. I'll give you a little information. It's kind of scary out there. Right now I think the December 20th -- this doesn't change. This just moved it up, and if kids are ready to decide, they decide. If they're not ready to decide, they can decide in February. But it's the future and what's going to happen in the future. They're talking about April, May and June official visits. That scares me. From what you hear on the road, they're talking about now contact by our coaches in the high schools in the spring recruiting process. That scares me. Number one, I don't really -- I don't think our compliance guy -- it's something we're not used to, going into high schools and talking to kids. But there'll be long lines outside the door. Our recruiting pool back in May will be this big, and then when we're contacting them in December and January, it's this small. You're hitting the spots you need to hit and you're done. We're not talking -- we could go do DeMatha High School and talk to 15 guys next May. That's not good. There will be lines -- so my fear is, number one, the kids aren't going to be in class. I think they're in high school in their junior year to get an education. For an entire month -- I told some coaches, you might as well get maybe 10 classrooms added on to your school just so we can line up your kids, put them in there, and we'll just go in one door and out the other, we'll just keep going down the line. That's some of the fear.

But some kids have this feeling they're going to take their five visits, they're going to take the five visits in the summer, I'm going to commit to my school and then I'm going to bypass my senior year of high school and just get ready for my first year in college. Now, how scary is that? If I'm a high school coach -- think about it; that's where it's going. We all have guys leaving early and guys not playing in bowl games, now we're going to have high school players. That's what scares me. Right now this is easy. It's when our whole calendar changes, that's when it's going to get real stressful is if it does change. I think the AFCA is working on it. I don't think coaches want it to change, but that's kind of where it's headed, which is not a good thing.

Q. Does the uncertainty about maybe where guys are going to stand academic wise make you less likely to take a risk on somebody?
PAT NARDUZZI: No question about it. When you look down this list, there are some pretty solid high schools on here, a lot of private schools that we're getting kids from, so you trust the education they're getting. If he's a shaky early student, if he's been shaky, which a lot of kids are that transition from eighth grade to ninth and tenth, some of them have family issues and reasons for some of those grades and how they grew up, but yeah, it scares the heck out of you because we'll be visiting kids that don't have a junior year, three years of education under their belt, and we're making decisions that are bad decisions. That's all part of it. And now we're taking them out of class in the middle of it. So those are all issues that especially at an academic institution like the University of Pittsburgh, we just don't get everybody in here, and that's an issue.

Q. You talked about how the quarterback transfers got changed, how you had to approach that position. What about the NFL decisions by your guys? Did any of those catch you off guard or change what you're doing?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, nothing catches you off guard. You're prepared. You see how they play. But we support all those guys. It's a dream for a lot of these guys. They see their dream right next door. They watch the success those guys have, and it doesn't surprise me. It's just there's more and more of it happening, I think, and three great kids that we enjoyed coaching, but they had that aspiration to play at the next level, and it's up here. It's the NFL, and they're going to have their opportunities. There's always -- there's conversation with all of them as far as what you're doing, how you're doing it. Brian O'Neill did the most homework. That guy was detailed, and I think he's got a notebook this thick with notes he took. So you want to make sure they go through the process the right way and make a decision for the right reason.

Q. How many more might you sign in February?
PAT NARDUZZI: I don't know, I lost count. I've got to go back and look and try to do my math, pull my pencil out. But I really don't know. We're going to go back and look. It's a day-by-day deal. You look and see what you have and who's happy, who's not. There's always movement on your team. People want to play. And I think that makes you better if guys are afraid to compete and they want to move on like we had, that you add to it. But we'll continue to evaluate. Again, it's a work in progress really.

Q. You had two corners in this class. They're a little bit less tall. What stands out about these two?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think the vertical jump, number one. If you look at Marquis, his arms -- I think he can put his arms -- he's got some long arms, so he plays like he's 6'2". You look at their reach and all that, all of them really have those different qualities, toughness, and it's not all about the height. You look at it, you watch, there's a lot of guys 5'9", 5'10" playing in the NFL, playing against bigger receivers. There's very few guys that are 6'2" that can run like you want them to run. We've got a little bit of everything. We've got big corners, we've got small corners, we look and see what we need, what we want, but you'd better be able to run. We can have 6'3" corners; if they can't run with them, the height doesn't matter.

Q. There are two receivers that went different directions yesterday, got one more coming at 5:30. Due to the fact that you lost Jester and Quadree at receiver, is that one of your top areas of need?
PAT NARDUZZI: No question about it. When you look at needs, we really wanted to get some guys in at mid-year, so I mean, you'd like to have one here now, and we don't have that right now, but we'll get them in. Coach Sherman will do a great job with them. We've got a lot of young players that can play. There's some young guys we haven't seen that we haven't played yet.

But it was certainly a need that we wanted to address, and again, we got some players. Tre Tipton is coming back, so don't forget about some of those other guys, but we'll be fine. But anytime you lose two, you want to at least bring in two, maybe three.

Q. Do you bring up your rivalries on the recruiting trail? Are there schools you recruit against a lot or any of that kind of thing?
PAT NARDUZZI: Not really. It's funny how things happen sometime. You end up one year getting in battle with these certain schools from this certain conference, but every year it seems to be a little bit different. Every year I think you get into different battles for whatever reason.

Q. You have I think seven (indiscernible), five of them local kids. Maybe it's not as sexy as a big-time skill position player, but can you talk about the importance of that foundation and what having a lot of those guys, local kids in here, what that can do for you?
PAT NARDUZZI: Well, the first thing is those local linemen, we know they can go home and get that home-cooked meal. Even though our chef, Kevin, here is awesome, we don't care where we get them from. Those guys were picked not because they're from western Pennsylvania, they were picked and they had a lot of people coming after them. All these kids had a lot of teams going after them that wanted them all over the place, but those guys were chosen because they're the best. They just happened to be in western Pennsylvania, and we're excited to have them.

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