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Pat Signal: Pitt flips Auburn recruit Phillip O’Brien

The 6'2", 190-pound recruit is one of the top 50 safeties in the 2021 class

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff kicked off Christmas by flipping a coveted recruit from Auburn, as Phillip O’Brien, a defensive back out of Deerfield Beach High School in Florida, announced his commitment to Pitt on Friday. The pledge came 12 days after Auburn fired longtime Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn, which prompted O’Brien to decline to sign with Auburn and rethink his initial decision.

The 6’2”, 190-pound safety is considered a three-star recruit, according to Rivals and 247Sports, both of which count him among the top 50 safeties in the 2021 class. But ESPN holds O’Brien in higher esteem and gave him a four-star rating, ranking him as the No. 20 safety in the country in 2021.

Over the course of his recruitment, O’Brien drew a total of 31 offers before initially committing to Auburn in February. Of those offers, 26 came from Power Five programs, and O’Brien ultimately selected Pitt over the likes of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Penn State and West Virginia.

O’Brien is one of several 2021 recruits who have spurned interest from playoff-contending programs to commit to Pitt. Naquan Brown compiled a similar offer sheet but flipped from LSU to Pitt earlier this month, and Elliot Donald also chose Pitt over offers from elite programs like LSU, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

The likely reason for Pitt’s increased competitiveness on the recruiting trail this time around is that its defense has risen to an elite level under Narduzzi. In 2020, Pitt led the nation in sacks and tackles for losses, with 46 and 111 in 11 games. The team has also ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense for the last two seasons, finishing 15th in 2019, with 312.9 yards allowed per game, and 24th in 2020, with 339.5 yards allowed per game.

As for O’Brien, he comes to Pitt at an ideal time, as Pitt safeties Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin have declared for the NFL draft and the future of the Pitt secondary is unclear. That should provide him with a chance to make an early impact, should he set himself apart from the pack during training camp. But even if he doesn’t immediately snag a starting role, he will be in good company as part of a defense that is well positioned for years of dominance.