Pitt’s running back corps was hit hard by the simultaneous departures of Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison after the 2018 season, and that led to a lackluster rushing attack in 2019. However, the Panthers coaching staff has been working on building up the position group and has had some success. Its latest coup came in the form of comments from 2022 running back Kaleb Johnson, who called Pitt and Michigan State his “top two picks.”
“It’s Pitt and Michigan State,” Johnson told Josh Helmholdt of Rivals on Tuesday. “If we don’t have a season, those are going to be my top two picks right there.”
The 6’1”, 205-pound running back out of Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, holds offers from a total of eight schools despite not yet having a star rating. In addition to Pitt and Michigan State, Johnson has received offers from Buffalo, Iowa State, Kent State, Toledo, Western Michigan and Cincinnati, which is just 20 miles south of Hamilton.
One notable aspect of Johnson’s comments is that he placed Pitt and Michigan State above a strong Cincinnati program near his hometown that has posted back-to-back 11-win seasons under Bearcats coach Luke Fickell, who actually turned down the Michigan State head coach position when Mark Dantonio, Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi’s former boss, vacated his post in February after 13 seasons.
As for Johnson, he has emerged as a star at Hamilton, where he made a statement at the start of the 2019 season by running for 148 yards and one touchdown in a 21-7 win over West Clermont. He would finish his sophomore year with 878 yards and nine touchdowns.
One major leg up Pitt has in its recruitment of Johnson is that the prospect actually visited Pitt’s campus before the pandemic, met Qadree Ollison, and spoke highly of the alum and his time in Pittsburgh.
“What really caught my attention was how they cherished Qadree Ollison,” Johnson told Helmholdt in their interview. “He plays for the Falcons now, but me and him talked my first time there, and he made me feel like I was supposed to be there.”
While the news about Johnson is positive for Pitt and bodes well for the program's prospects of building up its offensive backfield, a decision may be some time away, as Johnson is not set to graduate until 2022.