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Friday, November 8, 2013
Pitt looks to follow Miami's blueprint

By Jared Shanker

Pittsburgh would like to get to where Miami is. Two programs down on their luck for much of the last decade, Miami has climbed out of ACC mediocrity as a conference contender. Pittsburgh is the newest middling program to leave the Big East for the ACC.

Miami has made its way to the top third of the ACC behind the success of a new coach and his recruiting, and Pitt hopes to do the same under second-year coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers are looking to finish strong in 2014, and this weekend could go a long way toward doing that.

The Hurricanes are still not where they want to be following a second-half shellacking at the hands of rival Florida State last weekend. A win Saturday night, however, and the Hurricanes essentially lock up a rematch with the Seminoles in the ACC title game, which would help regain some power in the three-way recruiting tug-of-war in Florida.

Here are five recruits who will be keeping a close eye on the Notre Dame-Pitt game and five more who will be watching Virginia Tech-Miami.

Notre Dame at Pitt

ATH Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa): It is not often the Panthers miss out on prospects from nearby Aliquippa, and Henry is related to former Pitt standouts Darrelle Revis and Sean Gilbert. The two-way star is a West Virginia lean, however. The Mountaineers have been out front for Henry for quite some time and the lead is expanding. This could be the type of game that finally brings Pitt a little bit closer to the top spot. Henry, No. 136 in the ESPN 300, will take official visits after the season, and he acknowledges the pressure to go to Pitt will increase as signing day nears. A positive showing by the Panthers on Saturday could go a long way in easing some of that pressure on the state’s top player. One problem: Henry will be at West Virginia.

OT Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon): Bookser is the No. 2 player in Pennsylvania and No. 149 in the ESPN 300, and he is as important to the Panthers as Henry is. Chryst comes from Wisconsin, where his offense was built around an unmatched offensive line. Chryst signed No. 2 offensive tackle Dorian Johnson in 2013, and Bookser could be the other bookend for the Panthers in the near future. Much like Henry, though, the Panthers face stiff competition for Bookser, who also likes Ohio State.

Montae Nicholson
Montae Nicholson is ranked No. 249 in the ESPN 300.
ATH Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway): Another member of the ESPN 300, Nicholson represents another top target on the Panthers’ board. Pitt has always been toward the top of Nicholson’s list, but he has never named a favorite school at any point in his recruitment. It looks as if Nicholson is done taking official visits, which means Pittsburgh might be the only school he might visit before a December decision. The No. 4 player in Pennsylvania and No. 249 in the ESPN 300, he has been to Pitt twice already this season and will be attending the Notre Dame game. Florida State, Michigan State, Penn State and Oregon are the other schools Nicholson is considering, although the Hot Board projects him to Pitt.

RB Shai McKenzie (Washington, Pa./Washington): A three-star running back, he has held Pitt in high regard since a junior day visit in February, and now it looks as if he is down to three schools: Florida State, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. McKenzie’s public leader changes frequently, but the belief is Pittsburgh is still the leader. He is coming off an official visit to Florida State, but the Panthers could do a good job of erasing the Tallahassee visit from his mind with a victory over the Irish.

WR Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan): Those four prospects listed above are the Panthers’ top in-state targets; Kamara is the top recruit outside the Keystone State on Pitt’s board. The ESPN 300 receiver has long been considered a Virginia lean, but with the Cavs floundering again in 2014, it's opened the door for others to make a move for Kamara. Pitt was in Kamara’s top two for several months, but recent visits to Michigan State and Wisconsin have clouded the picture. This is likely Pitt’s last opportunity to impress Kamara, No. 269 in the ESPN 300, as he will be on campus.

Virginia Tech at Miami

DT Anthony Moten (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas): A south Florida native, Moten is one of the final targets on the Hurricanes’ board. There might be only two spots left in the Canes’ class, and Al Golden wants the No. 30 player in Florida to take one of them. Moten, No. 176 in the ESPN 300, looks to be closing in on a decision and Miami is the clear front runner. Florida State is the other finalist, but Miami should lock up Moten soon.

Johnnie Dixon
Wide receiver Johnnie Dixon is ranked No. 39 in the ESPN 300 and is considering Miami.
WR Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer): If Moten is one of the two players Miami wants to finish with, Dixon is the other. The No. 4 wide receiver in the country, Dixon, like Moten, is projected to sign with the Hurricanes. His timetable might be a little later than Moten’s, though. He is not as much of a guarantee to sign with Miami as Moten is, so the Canes need to keep winning to stave off programs such as Alabama for the No. 39 player nationally. A win against Virginia Tech should get the Canes to the conference championship and a possible BCS bowl, which would make a major impression on Dixon.

WR Da’Vante Phillips (Miami/Miami Central): Phillips is one of the most coveted juniors nationally, and the Florida Gators cashed in early with a commitment from No. 1 receiver in the ESPN Junior 300. Phillips committed to Florida this summer, but Miami is not turning down the heat for the local prospect. Joseph Yearby, the top commit in Miami’s 2014 class, is Phillips’ teammate (as is top Florida commit Dalvin Cook), and if any team can flip Phillips, it would probably be Miami. A trip to the ACC title game, coupled with Florida’s crumbling season, could have Phillips rethinking his choice.

RB Jordan Scarlett (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School): The top running back in Florida in the junior class, Scarlett is a Florida State lean and visited FSU for the win against Miami last week. But the Hurricanes are in Scarlett’s backyard and, like Phillips, are not going to give up any time soon. There is a long way until signing day, and the proximity to Coral Gables will always make the Canes a legitimate threat to land the No. 26 junior.

QB Brad Kaaya (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade): A Miami commitment since May, the rumors around Kaaya continue to swirl as local schools UCLA and USC offered in October. Kaaya remains committed but has not said much publicly, deciding to focus his attention on his senior season. Speculation will continue to build until Kaaya signs. Miami can only help its cause by continuing to win.