UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 7, 2018
PAT NARDUZZI: Spring ball is right around the corner, as you guys know. I appreciate you coming for the second signing date. I don't know what you guys think. I should ask you guys what you think about these two signing dates. You know, it's round 2 as far as the signing date goes. As a football coach, just to start off there, what's our thoughts on the process, it was really nice to sign 16 great players in December and then have the month of January to really kind of narrow our focus on what our needs are, who we want, and go after those guys as well as look into the future as far as what 19s and 20s hold in walking through some of those schools.
Sometimes you find yourself as a head coach sending your assistants out there to go, hey, make sure you stay on Jerry, don't let Jerry go. Jerry starts to slip away, you've got to go back and get him, and then you're trying to keep everybody in line. I do like the early signing date. I don't like anything else that would maybe go with that. I don't like an early visit period, which we've talked before. But I really do like that. And then you can kind of evaluate what you have and then go out and get a couple more.
So we were able to sign five, I think, unbelievable athletes. Really when you look at our focus, maybe the next press conference I'll kind of say, hey, how many guys did we visit and how many did we get, but I'm guessing we hit probably on 80 to 85 percent, which is unbelievable. Our hit ratio when they step on this campus and see what we have to offer, and Chris, you've probably got a tally already, what's the stat? It's pretty good. I don't know if I've been around better, which tells you the product here, the people at the University of Pittsburgh are strong. I've always said this: It's our job as coaches to get them on campus, and once they're here, the university sells itself. I don't think people realize how tremendous this campus is, the facilities are, and most importantly, the people on campus and academics and all the support we get there. We've talked about that before.
Really excited about that.
One thing I wanted to hit on today that maybe I didn't hit the last time was really the team recruiting we do. It really starts with an area recruiter. We're really focused on whose area is that. Someone has got to work their area, and then we actually get the position coach involved in that area as well as a coordinator and then obviously the head coach gets to go in and see that individual one time when he's on the road recruiting. So we're really area, and then really get our entire team in there on a prospect. I think that's probably an important thing to understand. It's not one guy doing it, it's everybody doing it, and I think it's a team process, and I think it works because there's more relationships that these players, these families, these grandparents have with all these other coaches, and I think it's important.
So that was even more what we were able to do in January is really get more people in there because you didn't have to spread yourself so thin.
So when you look at needs and what we got signed here, we got, I think, a tremendous tailback we'll talk about in a second. We got an offensive tackle, which was a major need. I'll go back to tailback. We needed a tailback. We wanted a tailback, but we weren't just going to take any tailback. Coach Powell will probably get mad at me. I don't see him in here, so Coach Powell would have his guys up there that he wanted, and the one we signed obviously was a guy -- Mychale was a guy that we wanted bad, and we didn't think we were going to get him. There was some other guys -- so he kept moving guys up the board, and they weren't really good enough. They weren't what we wanted to take. So we weren't settling for less, so we got the tailback we wanted and the tailback that we needed, but we might not have taken one. If we didn't get Mychale, we weren't going to take one.
We got a great offensive tackle of need. With Brian O'Neill leaving one year early, we felt like we needed to get an older guy. We targeted a few guys and landed one. Probably would have taken two. We needed one more and wanted one more corner. We got that down in Texas. And then we took two more big athletes that I don't think you can ever go wrong taking big, athletic guys, and we took two of those. With that, I guess I'll go ahead and hit down on these guys.
The first one, Rob Harley was really the major contact on this one: Haba Baldonado, from Clearfield Academy International down in Clearfield, Florida. One year at Clearfield Academy, but really came from Rome, Italy, which you guys probably know everything. You guys are like yeah, Coach, we know, you guys are on the internet and Twitter and all that, but Haba is an unbelievable kid. Have not met his mother. I've FaceTimed his mother in Rome. If Heather lets me, me and Coach Harley probably got to take a trip out to Rome just to see her. That will be a nine-hour there, spend a couple hours and turn around and come back and get some more. Jerry, might need assistance from you.
But you talk about a great student, fluent in three languages. He's a great athlete. We've got video of him doing back flips, the whole deal. He's a great athlete that I think Coach Partridge and Coach Salem, again, whether he's a tight end, D-end, can do a lot of things with the athletic ability there. Erick Hallett from Cy-Fair High School right outside of Houston, Texas, so from that area, again, Randy Bates, our new defensive coordinator, was really in on that recruit. When we hired Randy, I guess, a month ago -- been here a month, Coach? 21 days ago. I said, hey, we still are looking for a great corner if you've got one in your area, and bang, Erick was the first guy we were on. We took a while just to kind of find out who he was, like we usually do. We just don't jump in and put both feet in, we put one foot in, test the water, and quality, quality parents, two parents at home, and just a tremendous athlete, comes from a great high school, won a state championship there. So we're excited to have Erick with us.
Stefano Millin from Massillon Perry High School in Massillon, Ohio. Kent State grad, that's that offensive tackle transfer that we were talking about. Played against Clemson, passed at those guys. I think if you can play against them, you can play against anybody.
But Stefano comes in here, I think he's a leader. I think he instantly brings not only his experience but brings leadership qualities of an older guy. I won't be surprised if he walks in that O-line meeting room and becomes the dad of the group. Very smart. And I think he's really, really tough.
He's already warned me, Coach, I like to go to the end of the whistle, and I like to talk a little bit, too, so he's kind of got a little nasty streak in him, so we're fired up that Stefano and his family decided to come here.
Defensive end, another big athlete Kaymar Mimes from Long Branch High School, Long Branch, New Jersey. Just a guy that we didn't think was going to sign until February, so we weren't really going crazy in December with recruiting him, and then all of a sudden at the last minute we hear that he's possibly going to sign with somebody in December, and we're like whoa, whoa, whoa, so we slowed the process down, got back in there at the last second, really put a halt to the marriage. We were at the front doors of the church, and we locked the church doors up and said, no, there's no wedding here today. Just kind of ended that whole picture, and really got back in it to the point we could get Kay here on campus. So we stopped the marriage, and we married him ourselves. The relationship with him and his family go back a long way, and that's where the trust really started.
His brother, even though it's a different last name, they rotate the last name, his brother Shilique Calhoun was a defensive end for me at Michigan State, now is with the Los Angeles Raiders or Oakland or whoever they are now, the Oakland Raiders, I guess. So he plays out there, and that's kind of the relationship, and again, Coach Salem did a heck of a job on him.
Going back to Stefano real quick, Coach James Patton really went on the road and did a heck of a job, really sealed the deal on Stefano. And again, Coach Salem was obviously the lead recruiter on Kaymar in New Jersey because he dominates that area.
And then the last one, Coach Powell, our running back coach, was on Mychale Salahuddin, our new tailback that decided here, I guess, about noon, from H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C., and again, another just quality, quality kid. What sold us on him is not only his character, his mom and grandma, is that Jaylen Twyman also a teammate we had the year before, and the quality of person he's been in the year he's been here so far and not only academically but athletically. H.D. Woodson is putting out some great players and great character kids, so we're happy to have Mychale with us, as well.
So those are our five guys. It's a heck of a class. Our coaches did a wonderful job at locking those guys up, and again, recruiting them like we do, the real way.
With that, I'll open it up for questions.
Q. You mentioned Baldonado could play defense or tight end? Do you look at that possibility --
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, they all can -- you know how we are. We'd like to play guys both ways. Noah no doubt about it can do it, big athlete. What we normally do, and again, we may be able to do it in a mini-camp this year a little bit. That's a long story, but yeah, we'll find out when they come into camp really what they can do, and we'll go through some big skill drills. Hey, how well do they catch the ball; they might look good, run well, but they can't catch; then they'd probably stay at defensive end. If they can catch, it's kind of like, ooh. So we're going to spread those big athletes out and give us a chance to get the best players on the field.
Q. Did the possibility of those guys being able to do that change your approach in January as far as recruiting tight ends?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, it really did. We had a need. We would have liked to have gotten one pure tight end, but again, didn't want to settle for the guys that -- well, that guy, he just doesn't have this or have that. We just wanted to get the best big athletes we could, and that's what we've arrived at.
Q. With Mychale, when you talk about him filling a need for you guys, did you look him more as you wanted someone that good to fill that need? Is that something you wanted more this year or looking long-term?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think whenever we take a player, we don't want to take a guy just to be a backup. We're taking a guy to come in and play. Mychale is going to have a chance to come in and compete right away. We feel good with our running backs we had, so it's got to be someone that we feel can come in and compete right now, otherwise let's wait until next year and get one that can compete fast, if that answers your question.
Q. You kind of touched on this, but how did the way things played out with the early signing period kind of make the second period where you didn't necessarily have -- there were some spots where you wanted a lineman, but there was other spots where you said, we have a scholarship, we can go find the best player we can find to fill that scholarship, doesn't matter what position he is, and how different is that?
PAT NARDUZZI: It's probably no different, but -- it's really no different. We have always had that same policy of finding the best available, very similar to what the NFL will do. You just were able to do that at the same time. We didn't have to go hold on to the rest of the class and keep them together when someone else is trying to find their best available and you're walking in one door and someone else is walking in the other trying to get your guy. It made it easier that way that we could really focus more time on these five individuals as they were coming on visits.
Q. Had you had the experience developing a player like Baldonado who hasn't played a whole lot of football but has all the athleticism you could look for?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, different high schools, there's some kids that played in America for 15 years that don't have some of the knowledge -- this kid is really smart. We've recruited international guys from Canada before. I've recruited probably -- recruited and coached probably three or four of them. A couple of them are probably still playing in the Canadian football league, so you've seen some of the international football players. This guy is just a little bit different. It's like his football knowledge, it's like he's been playing for a long time. He understands the game. The competition will be a lot better when he gets here compared to what maybe he was playing in high school, but I think it'll all translate. But we've had the international students that maybe don't come from that football -- from the United States that we have here. But this kid is -- there's something different about him, his personality. He's going to be a fun kid to coach. I can imagine him being involved in student organizations on campus. I mean, I think he's the complete package as far as a person, and he's really smart.
Q. Is one signing period more important than the other? Is the early signing period bigger than this one now?
PAT NARDUZZI: I would say the only way the other signing period would be bigger than the other one is if they just eliminated it and had one. But they're both important. We signed really, really good-character student-athletes in both of them, so how can you say one is better than the other or more important. You really can't -- it's kind of nice to have two. But I could go with one in December -- and again, really, this February signing, they can sign all the way to March 31st. So I think we talk about the signing day. It's really a signing two months that they have an opportunity to really sign that contract that they may have in front of them.
Q. Is it still a learning process to figure out how to approach two signing periods with recruiting?
PAT NARDUZZI: It is, it is. If you had to do it all over again, I can tell you this: It seemed like as you recruited -- there was more competition in January. You almost felt like some guys got over-recruited in January, like wow, things started to load up, and you couldn't believe so many guys were recruiting an individual just because there was only a couple fish out there and there was a lot of sharks looking for that little fish.
Q. Did you see Noah as a high school player?
PAT NARDUZZI: No, we didn't, and that bothers you, because you're like, hey, where did you come from, how did I not know where you were, but he was a 230-pound tall, skinny guy, I guess, and Kent got him. But those guys slip through the cracks, and that's probably when you talk signing periods, I think it's going to affect high school and high school players more than it's going to affect the colleges. But we're going to be affected because we're going to miss on a guy like that that could have been at Pitt. As a matter of fact, he was on our campus at Pitt back when he was coming out of high school, and just too skinny, whatever it may be, but he's not skinny anymore. He's a super player.
Q. Will he start at left tackle right away?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, he'll start at left tackle right away.
Q. After these two periods now, do you feel pretty comfortable when you go to high schools that people know what you're about and what your program is about?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I think so. That's always a work in progress. I think the amazing thing when people come in, and we've had some really, really good walk-ons come in the last couple weeks that we've kind of blended in with the rest of the visits, and the thing you here is just the way we do our business on campus, and that's kind of who we are, and you're shocked to hear that. But we continue to build our reputation as people and as a football program based on how we do our business, so I think it's a work in progress. But you'd be amazed at bringing in guys that just want to be a priority walk-on that are like, hey, I've been to five or six of these, and there's no place like this. That's how you build your reputation as a program. Our coaches and staff have done an incredible job there.
Q. Any word on an offensive line coach?
PAT NARDUZZI: No, no. We're working on it. Won't be long.
Q. Sounds like Coach Patton was able to go out and do some of that recruiting with Stefano?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, no question about it. We're allowed 10 coaches on the field, I think, as of January 9th. I'm not sure what the date was. But we didn't have him out any earlier than that, but we were able to get James out and Tim Cooper out. We were able to get -- we're going to have 10 assistants on the road. So we were able to get with Dustin Gray in compliance and get a switch and have those guys take over for our coaches that weren't here and for that 10th assistant until Archie Collins and Randy got here. So those guys took over and were able to come in and do the recruiting, which was a great experience for them, and obviously it helped us out a bunch. They did a great job.
Q. You signed the four DBs. Do you see any of them locked into corner? Do you think they could all move to corner or safety?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know what, no, we don't. Looking at those guys, we may have had -- I think Judson might have been the only guy in camp. I don't know if anybody can help me out with that one. Maybe two of them came to camp. But until we get them here, put them through drills, we think all of them have the ability to play corner, put it that way. We think they all can play there. But our field safety position could be a corner. He's playing the same position, just playing off coverage. We think they're all great athletes and all have a place for them. So those are probably your starting four guys out there when we put the freshmen out there in the fall.
Q. It seems like from what I was able to see that one of Mychale's calling cards is speed, to be a guy that can score for you. How rare of a talent is that for you guys to find, and do you feel like that makes a player like that more impactful when you don't have a ton of those guys?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I think any time you have a playmaker with his ability, and the other thing I'll mention about Mychale is he wants to play defense, too, okay, and we kind of like that. But he's a hitter. Go put some of his junior tape on and watch him whack people. He's a guy that can play both ways, so there's another safety for Coach Bates back there and Coach Collins and Coach hill. But he's a tremendous football player, and he can make an impact anywhere on the field, catching it, running it or hitting somebody.
Q. If I had asked you last spring or last June about how big you thought the class was going to end up being, did it end up bigger than you would have expected eight or nine months ago?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think that always happens. I don't know if I've ever been anywhere -- we always are shooting for a higher number, knowing that there's going to be attrition, guys looking for places to play, and I think it gets competitive. Any time you're bringing in more younger players and they start moving up the depth chart and they jump in front of people that you see guys kind of turn around and go, where did this guy come from, and they say, maybe I have to play somewhere else.
So we're always looking at those numbers, and it's always a fluid number. That's why I can't say we're going to take 14 of them, and then if we plan on 14, then all of a sudden we need 22, then we've got a problem. So we'll just continue to evaluate that. But yeah, there's always changes. Guys have opportunities to stay or choose to move on, and those are choices that we understand our kids have to make.
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