Pitt Mining New Jersey Talent on Recruiting Trail

Article excerpt

Pitt's football program is picking the Garden State clean.

Pitt has landed 14 recruits from New Jersey over the past three years, winning recruiting battles over traditional options Penn State and Rutgers, as well as some top programs around the country.

"It's been a hot topic," said John Otterstedt, publisher of ScarletNation, a Rivals.com website devoted to Rutgers athletics. "I think Penn State fans also feel that Pitt is encroaching on their territory."

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano vowed a decade ago to turn "the state of New Jersey into the state of Rutgers." Yet Pitt has nearly as many 2011 recruits from New Jersey (five) as Rutgers (six), a fact noticed by the players.

"When a highly ranked New Jersey recruit commits here, the other guys see it," said freshman Brandon Sacco, a center from Don Bosco Prep. "They think, 'All right. Jersey guys can feel comfortable in Pittsburgh.' That has something to do with it."

Pitt defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley, a native of Montvale, N.J., is the pipeline's primary recruiter.

"Jeff Hafley is a New Jersey guy," Sacco said. "When you talk to him, you get a real comfortable feel."

Hafley recruits mainly North Jersey. Offensive line coach Tony Wise handles South Jersey.

Garden State Parkway

Word is spreading in New Jersey about the Big East program in neighboring Pennsylvania.

Of the top 15 players in New Jersey's Class of 2011, one-third have committed to Pitt, including Paramus defensive tackle Marquise Wright, regarded as a top-five defensive tackle in the nation.

It doesn't end there.

Pitt is in the running for four other top-15 New Jersey prospects, led by a trio from traditional power St. Peter's - running back Savon Huggins, offensive tackle Keith Lumpkin and safety Sheldon Royster - as well as Miles Shuler, a four-star athlete from Long Branch, who has two dozen offers.

Any of the four could add to Pitt's prolific Jersey pipeline.

Huggins, New Jersey's top prospect and a top-10 running back nationally, has offers from Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, Penn State, USC and Miami (Fla.).

Lumpkin, a 6-foot-8, 295-pounder, visited Pitt training camp, and Royster is the No. 15-ranked safety in the nation. Both have offers from Rutgers.

The Panthers also are a contender for Don Bosco Prep's Elijah Shumante, a highly regarded defensive back from the Class of 2012 whose offer sheet includes USC and Miami (Fla,).

Some of New Jersey's best already wear a Pitt uniform.

The Class of 2009 included Blair Academy tailbacks Dion Lewis, who has gone from a three-star recruit to a Heisman Trophy candidate; and Ray Graham, rated as one of top 12 all-purpose backs in the country; along with defensive end Bernando Nunez, who turned down Michigan State and Oklahoma to attend Pitt.

This year's freshman class includes defensive end T.J. Clemmings, ranked second in the state, and Don Bosco Prep's Bryan Murphy, another four-star defensive end who likely will redshirt this season after suffering a broken foot in camp.

New Jersey's rising senior class features Bill Benton, a four- star prized athlete who turned down Florida, Nebraska and Penn State, and Wright, who picked Pitt over Penn State, Florida State and Oklahoma. It also features the state's top-rated quarterback, Gary Nova of Don Bosco Prep, and the state's No. …