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Pitt Football Recruiting: Panthers come out ahead in hectic day with Damar Hamlin, Aaron Mathews, and Juwann Winfree

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the words of the immortal Rick Rude upon joining the nWo after appearing on Monday Night Raw in the same night, 24 little hours.

Over the past 24 hours, Pitt has had quite the roller coaster of emotions with National Signing Day approaching and overall, the Panthers can count themselves winners for the day.

Things started off with a bit of a blow as the Panthers officially lost four-star wide receiver Juwann Winfree, who has formally decommitted. Winfree committed to Pitt after a JUCO stint followed a rocky relationship at Maryland. Things had been stirring for a few days and on Sunday, Chris Peak of Rivals officially said he was no longer a Pitt commit. Winfree still had the Panthers listed as his school of choice in a pinned tweet on his Twitter account over the weekend, but confirmed that he was gone on Monday:

Winfree was a four-star recruit joining a team that was in need of a No. 1 receiver with Tyler Boyd headed for the NFL a year early. Whether or not he would have been that guy was up for debate, but he looked to be on the fast track to a lot of playing time here. There have been some conflicting reports on if he left on his own or not but regardless of the circumstances, Pitt, if nothing else, appeared to have lost out on having some quality depth.

But while the Panthers lost Winfree, they managed to flip a wide receiver - Aaron Mathews, previously a Penn State safety commit. Mathews committed to Pitt on Monday and as Jim wrote earlier, that move was not just significant because he helped fill the void left by Winfree. The bigger story here, of course, is that Pat Narduzzi was able to grab him from Penn State as those two schools continue to do battle on the recruiting trail. Getting Mathews helps Pitt continue to make the case to recruits that they are closing the gap between the Panthers and Nittany Lions.

There's been some talk of Mathews coming to Pitt because he will be able to play wide receiver. It's hard not to notice that and Mathews sort of hinted at that in his announcement, calling out the position switch.

While Mathews has one less star on Rivals, it can be quite easily argued that the impact of getting Mathews here from Penn State over Winfree is a bigger play when you consider the public relations side of things. Local recruits are surely taking more notice of Mathews changing sides than they did when Pitt landed Winfree. In addition, Mathews also comes with less baggage than Winfree did. Now, this is no knock to Winfree who was previously suspended by Maryland. I don't mean this to be unfair to him and it's certainly not a sour grapes situation (at the time a potential commitment seemed like it was coming, we even asked the question if Pitt should pursue him). But it's worth pointing out in that Pitt was taking a chance on him to some degree and Mathews brings no such baggage to the table. It doesn't mean that Winfree could have issues down the road - it means that there doesn't appear to be the amount of risk with Mathews.

If stealing Mathews away wasn't indicative of Pitt's emergence has a bigger recruiting player, the Panthers' next trick was. Local four-star recruit Damar Hamlin, one of Pitt's biggest targets this season, picked the Panthers over Penn State and Ohio State on Monday night.

As I wrote on Friday, Hamlin essentially had a Who's Who list of schools pursuing him. In addition to his three finalists, also pursuing him were Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Auburn, Clemson, Miami, Nebraska, and many others. It was great to get him over Penn State, but what shouldn't be lost here is that he really had his pick of schools here. Pitt not only beat the Nittany Lions for his services, but most of the country as well. Sure, that's largely due to the fact that they were local and no one would argue that point. Pitt will almost always get some big local recruits that simply want to stay home. But the reality is that plenty of top players have left the area over the years and landing a top recruit here solely because he is local just doesn't happen. In getting Whitehead and Hamlin in back-to-back years, the Panthers are finding themselves much more competitive on the local scene with big time players.

Let's not get crazy here - Pitt has a lot of ground to make up to be considered a regular Top 25 program, let alone a national power. But if you're looking for the signs that they're on the right track, at this point they are staring you in the face. Pitt spent the money necessary to land not only Narduzzi, but an attractive, aggressive set of assistant coaches. On the field, they won eight regular season games and were ranked this year with a new head coach, a new quarterback, and without James Conner, perhaps the team's biggest offensive weapon. Now, in his first full class, Narduzzi is threatening to crack to the Top 25 for 2016 recruiting.

The Panthers have been showing all sorts of signs that they are for real and the last 24 hours is just the latest example of that.

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