Pitt's Graham recruits three transfers, one receiver from junior college
Friday, May 20, 2011
By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

While other schools in Bowl Championship Series conferences are receiving more verbal commitments for the 2012 recruiting class every day, Pitt's Todd Graham has yet to get his first. But the first-year coach is not concerned with the slow pace.

In an age when high school prospects are committing earlier than ever, Graham has a different philosophy.

"I don't pressure kids," Graham said Thursday. "I probably could have a couple of them. But, as a former high school coach, I'm not interested in pressuring kids. I don't know how you can make a decision without seeing other places. It's early right now."

Penn State has, by contrast, received eight verbal commitments. Others schools have multiple commitments as well. Graham and his assistants are taking their time.

"We're doing outstanding in recruiting," he said. "We've been diligent in our research. We don't just watch a film and offer a scholarship. We want to make sure it's the right fit. We don't offer 150 kids and take the first 25 that commit. I don't worry about what other coaches are doing. I don't mind being unique."

While Graham has not received verbal commitments from high school players, he has been busy signing transfers: three from Division I schools and another from a junior college.

Ray Vinopal, a Youngstown Cardinal Mooney graduate who started six games at safety for Michigan last season, will enroll this summer, as will fellow Michigan transfer Cullen Christian, a defensive back out of Penn Hills High School.

Another local product, Gateway High School's Brendon Felder, who played last season at North Carolina, is transferring in as well. Felder, a receiver, is transferring for family reasons and is petitioning the NCAA for a hardship waiver that would allow him to play next season. If his request is denied, he must sit out next season, too.

The only transfer who will be eligible to play immediately is receiver Josh Brinson, who played the past two years at El Camino Junior College in California.

"Josh is a big-time wide receiver," Graham said. "He's a very explosive player. I had several players from El Camino when I was at Tulsa, so I know those guys well out there. Josh has a lot of great potential. We're not going to sign a lot of junior-college players, but we think Josh is special."

Signing more receivers will be a priority for Graham, who is installing a spread offense. He has seven scholarship receivers on his roster and said he would like to carry 11 or 12.

Under NCAA rules, Graham is not allowed to be on the road recruiting during May. That's not ideal for a first-year coach, but Graham has compensated by keeping office hours on every Saturday this month. This open-office policy allows recruits to come to campus to meet him on unofficial visits.

Graham reiterated that signing top local recruits is his top priority.

"The last time we won a national championship in 1976 we owned this area," Graham said. "It's vital. We also think Ohio is vital, the Youngstown and Cleveland area. Then we have D.C. and Jersey, and we'll recruit in Texas and Florida. But nothing is more important than Pennsylvania."

While his assistant coaches are on the road recruiting, Graham has been crisscrossing the state meeting with alumni. Last night, he was in Johnstown. He also has been to Belle Vernon and Greensburg and will attend functions in Erie and Beaver County in the coming weeks.

Graham also has reached out to former players. He went to Dallas to meet Tony Dorsett and had the opportunity to meet with Bill Fralic, Dan Marino, Larry Fitzgerald and others at events in Pittsburgh.

"I'm getting out there as much as I can to build relationships," Graham said. "Getting to meet all of them has been neat for me. The best thing about this job is the people. Pitt is a very special and unique place. It's been great to go out and meet them one handshake at a time."