Picking on Whitehead for College Choice is Pitt-iful

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I’m Matt Popchock, and I’m just getting started.

Anson Whaley of the Pitt blog Cardiac Hill says: While Central Valley senior athlete Jordan Whitehead’s verbal commitment to the Panthers was unpredictable, perhaps what was predictable was the reaction from the lunatic fringe.

Jordan Whitehead
(Photo Credit: Andrew Chiappazzi/Beaver County Times)

POPCHOCK SAYS: Every village has its idiots, and none are above reproach. But treating a young man like a young man shouldn’t be too big of an ask for anybody.

Believe me, level-headed Penn State/Ohio State/West Virginia fans, I get it. Surely, for Pitt fans, the name Robert Foster rings a similar bell.

My advice to you is to shake Whitehead’s hand–metaphorically, if not literally–and wish him well. For someone like Whitehead, who behaved with the utmost maturity throughout the entire process, it’s what Coaches Franklin, Meyer and Holgorsen would do (I hope), if they haven’t already.

There’s an absurdity to recruiting that we could all do without, and kudos to Whitehead, one of the most heavily sought football prospects in Pennsylvania, for never getting sucked into it.

Pitt fans, stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Johnny Five-Star becomes one of the best high school football players in the area, and suddenly, every college on the eastern seaboard, including The Old Alma Mater and Arch-Rival U., wants him on their side. Fans of both schools, to say nothing of the others that have offered him, salivate at the prospect of Johnny Five-Star playing for their favorite team.

Then, the time comes for him to make up his mind, and Johnny Five-Star chooses Arch-Rival U. This prompts Old Alma Mater alumni who love wearing their politics on their sleeves to jump on social media and say something along the lines of, “Well, [to heck with] Johnny Five-Star, he was never really Old Alma Mater material anyway.”

Oh, by the way, Johnny Five-Star, having chosen Arch-Rival U. over several other colleges that have enjoyed varying degrees of success in football, is now conveniently listed as Johnny Four-Star on Recruiting-dot-com.

While Whitehead was getting in shape for his senior season at Central Valley, Pittsburgh mourned the loss of one of its greatest football legends, Chuck Noll. This year also marked the 30th anniversary of one of the few truly infamous moments of Noll’s career with the Steelers, which took place during training camp.

When asked about the status of holdout Franco Harris, Noll took a lot of heat for his innocuous reply, “Franco who?”

The Emperor wasn’t senile. He was right.

Worry about the players who make it clear through word and deed that they want to play for your team. Don’t worry about the ones who don’t.

For every Robert Foster that Nick Saban gets, there’s one or two that slip through his fingers, and every other NCAA program operates on the same “win some, lose some” basis. Successful are those who can shrug off professional disappointment and win by coaching up the players they have.

Foster might have helped Pitt immensely. Instead, Chryst was able to lure another special player from the Class of 2013, mild-mannered Clairton receiver Tyler Boyd. Boyd might become the next Larry Fitzgerald, and, according to Pitt’s record books, already has, on some level.

Rushel Shell, another Beaver County standout, like Foster and Whitehead, was seen as a game-changing tailback when he committed to Pitt. We all know what happened from there.

Pitt has had to “settle for” Erie McDowell product James Conner leading its backfield. All Conner has done this season, while Shell has tried to reboot his collegiate career at WVU, is battle for the FBS rushing lead and attract the same national attention Shell once did.

I visited and seriously considered multiple colleges before I chose to pursue my electronic media degree at the University of Cincinnati instead of Ball State. I’m not trying to put myself on the same pedestal as the aforementioned athletes. I’m simply pointing out that I empathize with those who find their college choice to be a difficult decision.

My decision to go to UC was never meant as a way of sticking it to anybody. I’ve always had tremendous respect for the journalism program at Ball State. But I will forever maintain that UC was just a better fit for me, and that Whitehead verbally committed to Pitt because, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Craig Meyer reported, it gave him the same feeling.

That’s why I’m giving Paul Chryst his due credit. He pursued Whitehead eagerly, but, by all accounts, never arrogantly, and he has focused on recruiting players, regardless of status, who he believes will be a good fit for his program, and vice versa. The sooner Pitt can find playmakers for its secondary, the better, and Whitehead can be one right away next season.

And if Whitehead wishes to have that chance, he had better love the program unconditionally and wear its uniform as a badge of honor, because, for Chryst’s players at Pitt, that has been an absolute deal-breaker. There’s a reason Shell’s dismissal was handled so swiftly.

So, if you’re a Pitt fan, be excited about what Chryst pulled off, because, having seen him a number of times, I know Whitehead is just the kind of player the Panthers need, and I became even more convinced of this when he talked to me after the first game of the 2014 season about what he needs to do before he’s ready to compete at the college level:

But also couch that excitement, because much can happen before and after the young man puts pen to paper. Whitehead still has to go into next year’s training camp with all the other Class of 2015 prospects with his wits about him and prove he won’t be Rushel Shell redux.

And if you aren’t a Pitt fan, be disappointed, but not discouraged. You never know who’s going to be the next Jack Ham, Archie Griffin or Steve Slaton. Recruiting is a roller coaster ride with endless and often unexpected twists and turns. Sometimes, at the risk of sounding even more trite, it’s downright silly.

Case in point: Tony Dungy once shared an anecdote about an unnamed recruit who spurned Minnesota for Michigan because he liked Michigan’s helmets better.

Hopefully they didn’t let that guy drink from the Little Brown Jug.

But maybe, just to hedge his bets, Chryst should ask you-know-who to bring back “The Script” before National Letter of Intent Day?

I’m Matt Popchock, and that’s all she wrote.


Author: Matt Popchock

Follow Popchock on Twitter @PopchockSays or contact him at mpopchock@verizon.net.

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