A few years ago, Joe Paterno and his coaching staff started a new trend in football recruiting by taking early commitments - very early commitments. Joe Pa and company began to fill their recruiting coffers with commitment after commitment, many of them coming before a ball was snapped to start Penn State's new season. Now it seems that Paterno's trend, abandoned in large part by the man himself, has moved west to Pittsburgh.
The Fourth of July fireworks were just set off but Walt Harris and his Pitt football program have 10 - count them - 10 early commitments and are more than halfway home despite being a full seven months from Signing Day. The results for Paterno were not good as the legendary coach posted back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1965.
Will things go better for Harris?
That remains to be seen.
It has been the experience of many that taking an early commitment from an offensive or defensive lineman is the riskiest proposition of all. If this theory is correct, you would have to think Pitt is in trouble right? After all, four of their 10 early commitments are from linemen. However, unlike many of Paterno's early linemen commitments who were blue-chip studs, the Pitt verbals have yet to reach their top potential.
The same can be said for defensive tackle Afa Anoai.
In fact, Slates was the only one among the four with offers from non-MAC schools and those offers were from Duke and Vandebilt, not exactly superpowers in the college football world. However, Harris and his staff saw something special in each player and jumped on them early. It's a risky proposition and the result won't be known for a few years.
The other six commitments for the Panthers are much less risky. In fact, Pitt has to be very happy with early commitments from skill position studs Eric Thatcher and Chris Narsesian.
Thatcher is one of the most athletic cornerbacks in the Midwest this year and, perhaps as important, a class act who possesses great character. He'll not only help shut down opposing wideouts in the Big East for the next four or five years, he'll also be a leader on and off the field.
Narsesian has great size and speed and, Antonio Bryant comparisons aside, should excel on the field without causing any headaches off of it. Never underestimate the character factor when assessing an early commitment and both of these players are loaded with it.
Getting a few hard hitters early on is always a good idea, and Pitt didn't strike out in that category either. Linebacker Chris McKillop has terrific size and a nasty attitude on the field. He'll be a very good inside linebacker or even a rush end before all is said and done.
And if he ever needs a gut check, he'll get one in practice on a daily basis from sledgehammer Mike Hull. Hull isn't the most athletically gifted fullback you'll ever see and he won't break any 40-yard runs or 60-yard receptions, but he will knock linebackers on their keesters on a regular basis.
If Hull can keep his weight in check (he was once up to 265 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame) and continues to work hard, he'll be an overachieving lead blocker in no time.
The wild cards among the early commitments are wide receiver Donald Brooks from Texas and defensive back Allen Richardson from Ohio. Neither player received any early big-time offers, but Brooks has great size and excellent potential while Richardson lit it up at Pitt's summer camp.
Would they have received more offers as their senior seasons unfolded?
Happily, Pitt doesn't need to wait and find out.
So with 10 commitments in the bank already, will the Panthers hold off for awhile in an effort to land some big-time blue-chippers? Not before they add a couple more names to the mix.
Rumor has it that defensive ends Kyle Smith (Harborcreek, Pa.) and Keilen Dykes could be in the fold by the end of July. The same might hold true for linebacker Paul Posluszny (Hopewell, Pa.) who could commit by the end of the summer. After that, the Panthers will likely focus on the big boys having assured themselves a solid foundation for the Class of 2003.
Is Pitt being smart about taking these players before other big-time programs jump on them as well or are they reaching and projecting while falling into the early commitment trap that has hurt others?
Only time will tell, but two things are for sure. Head coach Walt Harris and recruiting coordinator Bryan Deal certainly have a jump on the rest of the Big East when it comes to commitments and they're willing to take what amounts to be a huge gamble in going down the early commitment road.
Check back in three years to see if the gamble paid off.