Just in time for everyone to catch their breathe from signing day 2015, the 2016 recruiting cycle has essentially begun. Pat Narduzzi and his staff will have a full year to put together a class, rather than just trying to salvage one. I think we can expect a little bit better of a recruiting class moving forward from this staff, but we don't know exactly who they are targeting exactly.
Obviously, each staff recruits different states and regions more than others, and we still are unsure how Narduzzi will attack other states and which states those will be. We do know, however, he will look to keep players in-state, and here is a look at some of the top targets in Western Pennsylvania for 2016.
-- Miles Sanders has already committed to Penn State, and many regard him as the best player on this end of the state. The four-star running back from Woodland Hills committed to James Franklin a few months back, and seems to be very enthusiastic about playing for the Nittany Lions. It would be rather surprising to see him de-commit from there.
-- Damar Hamlin is probably the top uncommitted player from the area, and he is a very good one. Hamlin is regarded as a four-star player and plays cornerback for storied Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School. Hamlin projects more as a safety at the next level, and he will be a highly sought after player. I think Pitt will play a big factor in his recruitment, but Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and even Notre Dame will be in the mix also.
-- Kaezon Pugh is probably a little underrated right now as a three-star prospect, and may get the bump to a four-star before it is all said and done. The Aliquippa standout could either play running back or linebacker at the next level, and I think he is receiving interest on both sides of the ball. Pitt has long had a strong connection to Beaver County, and most notably Aliquippa, and I think that helps them quite a bit here. Still, he is being heavily pursued, and holds multiple SEC offers, and that's a good indication that he's an elite prospect.
-- Aaron Matthews is a big wide receiver from Pitt pipeline, Clairton High School. The 6'5" receiver holds a number of offers right now, but many feel Pitt has a good chance here given the fact Pitt has landed all of the big time recruits from Clairton in recent years. I wouldn't call him a lock or anything for Pitt, but I think they play a factor in his recruitment until the very end.
-- Andrew Pryts isn't technically from the WPIAL, but comes from nearby Hickory High School in Hermitage. He is a big 6'3" safety that is attracting a lot of attention, and will have close to 20 offers come next signing day. A lot of schools are pursuing him, but I think Pitt may find themselves in the mix, at least one Pitt assistant has visited him already according to one of Narduzzi's maps he tweeted a few weeks ago.
-- Khaleke Hudson is from McKeesport High School and holds around fifteen offers to date. I think Pitt stands a good chance in this battle, but Penn State will be a factor as well. It may very well come down to the two in-state schools in this particular battle. He is considered an athlete, but safety or outside linebacker seem like a good spot for him, but maybe running back also.
-- Pitt recently offered defensive tackle Rashad Wheeler from Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Pitt may also look to add at his teammates, Ron George and Bricen Garner, although they have not offered those two and it remains to be seen if they even will. Pitt may look to make Pittsburgh Central Catholic a priority again after losing Johnny Petrishen to Penn State just last week for the 2015 class. Landing Hamlin and Wheeler would be big time additions for Narduzzi.
-- Although they have already lost out on Miles Sanders, Pitt is still after another Woodland Hills back named Jo-El Shaw. Sanders is more of a speed back, whereas Shaw is kind of their power back, and probably fits into Pitt's scheme a little more. Pitt reaffirmed their offer to him, and they are his only reported offer as of now. Stephen Puhl is another Woody High prospect, as he is the team's tight end. Puhl has visited Pitt before, but does not hold an offer just yet.
-- Brandon Ford is a big and imposing linemen from Upper St. Clair and he holds a Pitt offer, along with a few from some MAC schools. Ford likes Pitt, and I think the Panthers sit pretty well for his services.
-- Billy Kisner is an athlete-type player that could project at a few different positions in college. He hails from nearby Penn Hills High School, and is without an offer, but one could be coming.
Right now, those are some of the top names from the Western half of the state, and obviously more names could emerge with prospect camps coming up in the Spring and Summer. Pitt will likely recruit some Southern states, along with regional places like Ohio, Maryland, and New Jersey, still you have to assume this staff will make it a point to do better in Pennsylvania in 2016, and that will start with the WPIAL first and foremost.