As Jordan Whitehead prepared to make his college announcement, Pittsburgh was not considered the clear frontrunner to land him. The four-star cornerback’s final four schools included Ohio State, a national powerhouse that has not lost a regular season conference game since 2011, and Penn State, which has made significant recruiting inroads within state lines under first-year coach James Franklin.
Meanwhile, the Panthers had failed to show signs of progress under coach Paul Chryst. After beating Delaware, Boston College and Florida International to open the season, Pitt dropped consecutive games to Iowa and MAC foe Akron leading into Whitehead’s Oct. 3 decision. Recent history cast more doubt on Pitt’s chances: The last star prospect from Whitehead’s Central Valley (Pa.) High, 2013 four-star receiver Robert Foster, spurned the local school for Alabama.
But a recruiting approach Whitehead characterized as “laid back” paid off when he chose the Panthers because of his comfort with the coaching staff and players, the location of the school and the possibility to earn early playing time, among other factors. In discussing his choice, Whitehead pointed to how Pitt sophomores Tyler Boyd, a four-star prospect in the class of 2013, and James Conner, a three-star prospect in the same class, were able to make early impacts with the Panthers.
“Knowing that they don’t care what class you’re in” was a major appeal of Pitt, Whitehead said. “They don’t play favoritism,” he added. In that vein, Whitehead says that before choosing a school, he thought about how Foster redshirted his first year at Alabama, one of more than 10 schools that offered Whitehead a scholarship.
Whitehead’s college choice invited comparisons to former Pitt standout and current NFL star Darrelle Revis. Both players are from Beaver County, Pa., both were recruited primarily as defensive backs, both won WPIAL championships with their respective high schools in their senior seasons while contributing on both sides of the ball (Revis attended Aliquippa High, the subject of a 2011 Sports Illustrated feature). Revis is also a relative of Whitehead, on his mother’s side. Whitehead said Revis texted him congratulations for picking Pittsburgh but did not push him to choose the Panthers.
Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director for Rivals.com, covered Revis’ commitment in 2003. After Revis, who also drew attention as a basketball prospect, chose the Panthers, he told Farrell, “They asked me what position I wanted to play, but I said I didn't care. They have been recruiting me as a cornerback, though.” Whitehead says he believes Pitt envisions him playing cornerback more than offense but responded, “Right now, I’m really not sure” when asked whether he prefers his defensive position over the other side of the ball, where plays running back and wide receiver.
It’s not hard to rationalize his uncertainty. In recent playoff games, Whitehead recorded 205 rushing yards and four touchdowns on only seven first-half carries a week after he scored a 55-yard touchdown reception that’s being described in hyperbolic terms.
Whitehead has returned kicks at Central Valley and said he would like to contribute on special teams in college. During his time at Pitt, Revis excelled as a cornerback and was also considered a dynamic return man. For all the similarities between Whitehead and Revis, however, Farrell cautions that Whitehead should not be expected to eclipse the five-time Pro Bowler, even though he’s ranked higher as a recruit (Whitehead jumped 158 spots in the latest Rivals 100, making him Pennsylvania’s top prospect) and, in Farrell’s estimation, is “more refined and stronger” at this stage.
“Nobody knew that Darrelle Revis was going to be Darrelle Revis when he was in high school,” Farrell said. “He was just a dominant player back when the WPIAL was, I think, even better, but as a corner, there was really not as many indications as one might think that this kid’s going to be a superstar and an All-Pro and all that stuff.”
Whitehead should have an opportunity to compete for playing time as a freshman after he enrolls in January. Where he’ll fit in the Panthers’ plans remains to be seen, as the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder has the versatility and athleticism for multiple positions. At Central Valley, Whitehead has played mostly free safety as a senior, a position that allows him to affect more plays than if he lined up at cornerback, but has also spent time at wide receiver and running back.
“Barring injury, I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t get on the field as a freshman either as a nickelback, on return teams, possibly playing a few snaps on offense or maybe even working his way into the starting lineup,” said Chris Peak, a publisher on the Pittsburgh recruiting website Panther-lair.com “I think he’s that special of a player.”
The Whitehead-Revis comparisons are unfair and extremely premature if taken to mean that the former should be expected match the many achievements of the latter. Still, even if Whitehead never comes close to replicating what Revis did with the Panthers, he does represent an important get for a program fighting to stay relevant in an increasingly muddled ACC Coastal division.
Around the nation
- The nation’s longest winning streak is over. Ithaca High’s 22-12 loss to Monroe St. Mary Catholic in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 6 state championship game ended a run of 69 consecutive wins dating back to 2010. The last game the Yellowjackets, who had won four straight D6 titles, lost before Friday was in the 2009 state playoffs. Ithaca needed three more wins to match the state record.
- St. Peter’s (N.J.) Prep quarterback Brandon Wimbush showed off his arm strength in a win over Bergen Catholic (N.J.) High in the state semifinals last month. Working out of the shotgun, Wimbush took a three-step drop, shuffled forward and launched a pass that soared 64 yards through the air to receiver Minkah Fitzpatrick, who caught the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.
It is not a huge surprise that Wimbush is responsible for a throw that one outlet thinks might be the longest in high school history. I saw him nonchalantly rifling 40-yard passes into the wind at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge this summer.
Wimbush, the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2015, flipped his commitment from Penn State to Notre Dame in October. In the win over Bergen Catholic, he completed 25-of-39 pass attempts for 430 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Fitzpatrick, the No. 3 cornerback in the same class, is committed to Alabama. He recorded 274 yards on nine receptions.
St. Peter’s will face Paramus Catholic on Dec. 5 in the non-public, Group 4 championship game.
- At least one prospect on South Carolina’s radar is confident that Steve Spurrier will be leading the Gamecocks for at least four more years. Three-star athlete Darius Slayton gave his impression about the 69-year-old coach’s timetable after a recent official visit to Columbia, S.C. From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
“I think he’ll be there through the next four years,” Slayton said. “Then after that, I don’t know how much longer he’ll keep on going. But everybody there this weekend seemed pretty firm that he’ll be there for the next four years, at least. That’s at the minimum.
“I’m confident if I went there, that Coach Spurrier will be there all four years with me.”
Slayton, the No. 44 cornerback in the class of 2015, is reportedly close to being ready to end the recruiting process. His scholarship offers include Tennessee, South Carolina, LSU, Auburn and Georgia.
Spurrier told The State on Monday that he will return as coach next season.
- Alabama scored 21 fourth-quarter points Saturday to pull away from Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The win kept the Crimson Tide atop the College Football Playoff rankings heading into championship weekend. As 2015 quarterback recruit and Alabama commit Blake Barnett notes, Crimson Tide fans did not rush the field after the game. You might recall what happened following the exhilarating conclusion of last year's meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
- Programs are raising the bar with the photoshopped materials they distribute to recruits. Consider this image Missouri created for three-star athlete commit Cam Hilton. The Tigers took a photo of the College Gameday set and replaced the mascot head Lee Corso slips on to signal his pick for the week’s biggest game with Hilton’s head.
- Bret Bielema was apparently trying to impress three-star offensive lineman Jalen Merrick on his recent visit to Arkansas.
Five notable performances
- Mission Viejo (Calif.) High’s Rome Innocenzi ran for 314 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-36 win over Great Oak High.
- Bordentown Regional (N.J.) High’s Jahmiere Van Kline carried 20 times for 374 yards with seven touchdowns in a 55-14 win over New Egypt High.
- McAlester (Okla.) High’s Dalton Wood rushed for 395 yards and five touchdowns and passed for two more scores in a 50-49 loss to MacArthur High (which got passing 289 yards and six touchdowns from quarterback Will Collins).
- Valle Catholic (Mo.) School’s Connor Basler completed 22-of-33 passes for 419 yards with five touchdowns in a 49-25 win over Westran High.
- Mission (Calif.) High’s Jerrel Stancil completed 17-of-23 pass attempts for 318 yards with four touchdowns while adding two rushing touchdowns in a 36-12 win over Lincoln High.
Five notable commitments
- St. Christopher’s (Va.) High senior Garrett Taylor committed to Penn State. Taylor, who decommitted from Michigan in October, is the No. 6 cornerback in the class of 2015.
- Orange Lutheran (Calif.) High senior Keisean Lucier-South committed to UCLA. Lucier-South is the No. 3 outside linebacker in the class of 2015.
- Corner Canyon (Utah) High senior offensive tackle Branden Bowen committed to Ohio State. Bowen, who decommitted from Utah last month, is the state’s No. 6 player in the class of 2015.
- Tupelo (Miss.) High senior Jarvis Wilson flipped his commitment from Mississippi State to Georgia. Wilson is the state of Mississippi’s No. 20 player in the class of 2015.
- Aquinas (N.Y) Institute junior Jake Zembiec committed to Penn State. Zembiec is the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2016.