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Pitt wrestling assistant coach Jordan Leen talks local recruiting focus

Pitt wrestling has one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the nation. Unfortunately, the Panthers have had a difficult time keeping high school kids in the area.

The Panthers have had some recent successes in landing transfers Kellan Stout (Penn State) and, this past weekend, Micky Phillippi (Virginia). That's important from a local standpoint in that both were guys that were from the western Pennsylvania area that left for other programs initially.

New assistant coach Jordan Leen, who recently came here from Virginia, wants to get Pitt back to landing local prospects. In a recent FloWrestling interview, he says he thinks the program can do most of its damage by simply recruiting around here.

"At UVA, we recruited nationwide and, in particular, one of those cities that I heavily recruited was Pittsburgh. So, now our recruiting is a little bit more simple, a little bit more manageable. We recruit regionally because we don't really have to go too far out of our region to find great wrestlers." ... "We just got back from a week of home visits and the furthest we drove for a home visit was 4 1/2 hours. So the majority of our home visits were within an hour or two hours. It's really nice to be able to try to keep the great local talent home."

Leen also talked a bit about attracting local talent, including adding transfers that possibly wanted to return back home, which speaks to both Stout and Phillippi. In addition, Leen says that others looking to transfer have reached out to the program as well.

An important part of what Leen discussed regarding those two transfers is that there's the hope they help lead to a domino effect for landing other local recruits. He mentioned the difficult of trying to get the local guys because no one wants to be the first one to come to what might be an unsure situation. The hope is that landing Stout and Phillippi not only strengthens the roster but also makes the program more desirable to potential high school recruits.

I know many fans weren't extremely high on the Keith Gavin hire. He still has a lot of work to do along with his staff, that's for sure. But I am more sold on this group of coaches than I was previously and I think you can even argue they have some solid momentum on their side with the recent transfer additions.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Rachid Ibrahim hoping to revive career in Wisconsin

A little-mentioned note last month was that former Pitt running back transferred out of the program and headed to Wisconsin to join former coach Paul Chryst. Ibrahim has a year of eligibility left and hasn't carried the ball since 2014. He missed all of 2015 with an injury and last year, played primarily on special teams. Given how little he's played for Pitt in the past two years, it was mostly a non-factor for the program.

Ibrahim obviously feels pretty comfortable with Chryst and his former coach was surely the biggest factor in his decision. Players often transfer to other schools for more playing time. But it looks like he'll be hard-pressed to get a ton of carries with the Badgers. As a grad transfer, he'll be able to play immediately this season.

First, he'll have to compete with former Pitt rusher Chris James, who could get considerable time this year after sitting out last season due to transferring to Wisconsin. There's also Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal, who combined for more than 600 yards last year as backups.

Ibrahim will likely start behind all of those guys on the depth chart and if he hasn't been able to regain his rushing ability, he could find it hard to get playing time. You might remember that last year, head coach Pat Narduzzi talked about Ibrahim having a hard time returning to form. Part of the problem, too, was that Pitt was just so deep at running back.

The good news for Ibrahim is that Chryst and Wisconsin have had a lot of success spreading the ball around to its backs. Even if Ibrahim is only the fourth running back on the depth chart, he could still see a good amount of time on the field.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt wrestling adds Virginia transfer and former Top 20 recruit Micky Phillippi

Pitt wrestling added a big transfer earlier this month when Kellen Stout announced he would transfer from Penn State. Head coach Keith Gavin is at it again, landing another transfer from a major-conference program. This week, it was announced that Micky Phillippi would be transferring from Virginia to come to Pitt.

Phillippi, like Stout, is a local kid. He wrestled at Derry where he won three state championships in high school. Phillippi competed at Virginia this season, where he was 22-7 at open tournaments. He's looking forward to coming 'home.'

"There's no place like home, so I'm really excited to join the Pitt wrestling family," Phillippi said. "The coaching staff are amazing people and I know that they will help me through the process of coming back. I can't wait to compete in the Field House because it will truly be a home match."

Coming out of high school, Phillippi was one of the top wrestling recruits in the country. InterMat had him ranked as the No. 16 overall recruit in the country, according to this page.

A likely factor in getting Phillippi was the program's addition of Jordan Leen as an assistant, which was announced back in May. Leen was an assistant at Virginia last year and helped to coach Phlilippi while there.

Unlike Stout, Phillippi won't be available to the Panthers this season because he's transferring inside of the ACC. That shouldn't be much of a problem, though, since the Panthers return 133-pounder Dom Forys, who will compete for All-American status and is the best wrestler on the team.

Pitt lost Teshan Campbell to a transfer to Ohio State after this season before Gavin arrived. But since his loss, Gavin has been pretty retooling the roster. He hasn't been here long but he and the staff have already been hard at work to improve the roster. It's no secret that the area is a major source of high-quality recruits and the hope is that Gavin can begin to keep more of them home. The additions of Stout and Phillippi could be a good indication that he's capable of selling the program to local kids.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

A look at job security of college football coaches

CBS Sports had an interesting look at job security for all 130 college football coaches in D-I. More than half were deemed extremely safe and one of those was Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.

Narduzzi, of course, isn't in any danger of losing his job right now. He's led Pitt to two eight-win seasons and while it would have been nice to see the team win a bowl game in those years, there's little doubt that Narduzzi's job is safe.

Other notables for Pitt fans, include recent former coaches Paul Chryst and Todd Graham. While Chryst is deemed as safe at Wisconsin, the site says Graham is in serious trouble at Arizona State.

Here's the full list.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt football youth a concern for Pat Narduzzi in 2017

Head coach Pat Narduzzi lost quite a bit from last year. You can expect to hear that theme carried out throughout the season as the Panthers had five players selected in the NFL Draft and several others land free agent contracts.

It makes perfect sense, then, that Narduzzi would have concerns about a youth movement of sorts this year.

"The biggest concern is we lost a lot of good football players who have opportunities to make NFL rosters all over the United States. We'll have another five or six next year, more than likely. "My biggest concern are our young guys stepping up and filling those roles and the leadership roles. A year ago, we had 21 really good seniors who were impressive. To not have those guys with us is a void. So, we're looking for those new seniors."

'Youth movement' isn't really the right term. The Panthers don't have a completely young team and I think that's a little bit of a misconception based on how much they lost.

Based on the preseason depth chart that was released last week, there are plenty of upperclassmen starters for the team. Quarterbacking the Panthers is senior transfer Max Browne. Pitt's entire offensive line is comprised of upperclassmen. Pitt also has several key upperclassmen in skill positions, including the top two wide receivers Jester Weah and Quadree Henderson as well as the top two running backs on the depth chart in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. The top two fullbacks are upperclassmen. The team's starting secondary is all listed as upperclassmen as are two of the three linebackers.

Narduzzi's point is really that the team lost quite a bit of key players, which they clearly did. And the team also has several young players expected to fill key backup roles. But the Panthers also have a lot of starters with a good amount of experience so it's not as if they are starting over entirely.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Close not good enough for Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi

Pat Narduzzi spoke about many topics at last week's ACC Media Days. One topic was about getting Pitt to the next level and winning the Coastal Division.

"We've been close the last two, but close ain't good enough," said Narduzzi.

There's no doubt that the Panthers have had a good showing in the last two years under his direction, winning eight games each season. And there's no doubt that most fans have been satisfied with how the team is performed and the direction he has the program going. But Narduzzi is right in that it's ultimately not good enough since the team has bigger goals.

Narduzzi also went on to discuss the Division being wide open with Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic. Here's the short video segment on the Panthers' head coach talking about trying to break through to the next level.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlogfor our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

ACC leads conferences in watch lists for Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award

Last week, I mentioned that Pitt had several three players on the preseason watch lists for the Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award. Those players were Brian O'Neill and Alex Officer (both Outland) and Jordan Whitehead (Nagurski).

But ACCFootballRx notes that the ACC in general placed quite a few players on those list. In fact, the conference leads all others in terms of players named.

In all, 17 linemen were named to the Outland watch list while 20 players were on the watch list for the Nagurski Award.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlogfor our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Quadree Henderson named to Maxwell Watch List

Several Pitt players have been named to preseason college football award watch lists and one of those was Quadree Henderson. Henderson burst onto the scene last year with a big season primarily as a return man, gaining All-American status. After that year, he's on the radar of award voters for this season and he was one of 85 players named to the watch list for one of the bigger awards in the Maxwell, given to the top overall player in college football.

Henderson is one of the better all purpose players in college football. On top of his four touchdowns as a return specialist, he also had 631 rushing yards to go along with 26 catches for 286 yards and a total of six rushing and receiving touchdowns.

Despite the fact that Henderson is poised for a big season in 2017, there's no doubt that his chances of seriously competing for this award are slim. Still, it's great to see him recognized as one of the top players in college football.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlogfor our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pat Narduzzi wants more improvement from Quadree Henderson as receiver

The narrative of Quadree Henderson needing to improve as a wide receiver isn't a new one. Henderson, already a world class (and All-American) kick/punt returner, also excelled as a running back, piling up 630 yards on the ground and five touchdowns.

Where Henderson struggled a little was making an impact as a pass-catcher. On the season as a starter, he had a modest 26 catches for 286 yards and only a single touchdown. As such a dynamic performer with the ball in his hands, Narduzzi is hoping he becomes a better receiver this season.

During the spring, the head coach said it wasn't a matter of his hands, rather, his route running. He hoped to see a lot of improvement out of Henderson and he echoed that sentiment on Friday, too.

"He needs to become an elite receiver," Narduzzi said Friday at the ACC's football kickoff event. "It's great to hand the ball off if he wants to be a running back. But if he wants to play at the next level, he's not going to do it just as a return guy. If he wants to be a tailback, be a tailback. But he needs to be better on the field reading coverages, getting vertical and making big plays down the field. That's been a major focus in the offseason."

If you just take that comment at face value, it can almost read as if he was a little annoyed at Henderson. Of course, that isn't true. Narduzzi was clearly talking about Henderson showcasing more so that he can get to the NFL. He also kind of reiterated that point.

"He wants it, too," Narduzzi said. "He understands that. It's not something where he's satisfied with getting handoffs and maybe catching a bubble once in a while. He has to be a deep threat to play at the next level."

Can he be elite? I don't know. He has the speed and elusiveness, as evidenced by the work he does in the return game and as a running back. But using those tools isn't enough on their own. He has to run routes with pinpoint accuracy, gain separation, find holes in coverage, be mindful to hold onto the ball, catch the ball, etc. There's a lot more to it than simply being fast and shifty.

I'm not sure what a reasonable goal is for Henderson. I always hate to simply put numbers on something and say, 'if he does this, he was successful.' So much of it is situational. I'd take a 3rd down catch and conversion over three meaningless catches, for example. But Henderson will also need to bump up his stats, too, to get more notice by NFL teams. At the risk of quantifying too much, a good starter for him this season might be to get to about 40 catches and 500 yards.

Personally, I don't care where his yardage comes from so much. If he's killing it on the jet sweeps again and Pitt is moving the ball, I'm happy. This is more about continuing his development as a receiver so that, as Narduzzi says, he gets more looks at the next level.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Despite changes, Ryan Luther never considered transferring from Pitt basketball

Pittsburgh Sports Now had a good interview up with Pitt basketball player Ryan Luther. The forward/center said that, despite all of the changes and uncertainty about this year, transferring wasn't an option to him:

He also wants to make something else clear. The decision-making processes that led to five of his teammates transferring never entered his mind. Not for a minute. "No," he said bluntly when asked if he ever considered transferring. "When I chose to come here to Pitt, it was for a lot of reasons, it wasn’t just one. I made a commitment and I’m sticking to it. … It’s my last go around. Especially being from here. I wanted to leave it all out there and have no regrets."

Luther surely would have had offers elsewhere had he wanted to leave, so it's not as if he had no choice in the matter.

His words about making a commitment and sticking to it are interesting. Was that an indirect shot at other players that decided to bail on the team? Beats me, but given the Cam Johnson departure, especially, those words are sure to make people think about that.

Luther's also in line for a lot of fan support for sticking out what could be a really challenging year. I have no doubt that fans will remember his commitment and that it will be drummed up quite a bit during many of Pitt's broadcasts, as well it should. That kid deserves a lot of credit for sticking around and one good thing is that he should have plenty of opportunity to showcase his abilities on such a young team where he is, by far, the most experienced player returning.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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