When Woodland Hills and Clairton football players choose Pitt, they have a built-in advantage — there are several Wolverines and Bears already playing for the Panthers.
“When you first get to a new school, you want to know somebody,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Ejuan Price said. “When I came to a new team, I already had two great friends.”
Price, a member of the 2011 recruiting class who originally committed to Ohio State, came to Pitt a few days later than most freshmen, but it wasn’t a problem for him because redshirt sophomore cornerback Lafayette Pitts and junior defensive tackle Khaynin Mosley-Smith — also 2011 recruits — were there to show him around.
Pitts, along with Price and Mosley-Smith, would show former high school teammates around the next year, too, when Pitts’ cousin, redshirt freshman safety Jevonte Pitts and redshirt freshman linebacker Mike Caprara arrived at Pitt.
“It’s nice having all of my brothers from Woodland Hills here,” Jevonte Pitts said. “When we were in high school, it was like a brotherhood, and when we came here, it was the same thing.”
Jevonte Pitts spent 2011 at Milford Academy — a New Berlin, N.Y., preperatory school. When he came to Pitt the following season, he was behind the rest of the 2011 recruiting class, despite being the same age.
“I didn’t know anybody when I came here, but I knew Mike, Lafayette and Juan,” Jevonte said. “Then they knew older guys, and I could get into the groove with them. It’s probably harder for other guys because they don’t know anybody.”
The freshman safety and Lafayette Pitts work together on and off the field to make each other better players.
“We learn to play off of each other,” Lafayette Pitts said. “We’re in our playbooks together. We help each other when there’s something we’re not certain with, and we become better players because of that.”
It doesn’t just end with the Pitts cousins, though. All five Woodland Hills players remain close, and it has made them better players.
“We’re always bouncing off of each other whether we’re older or not,” Caprara said. “We learn from each other every day — on the field and off the field.”
For as beneficial as each of the former Wolverines thinks it is having high school teammates at Pitt with them, it’s hard to believe it almost never came to fruition.
Both Jevonte Pitts and Caprara were offered scholarships late in the recruiting season. Lafayette Pitts chose the Panthers on signing day after having shown serious interest in Rutgers.
“It was a big question mark where everyone was going to end up,” Caprara said. “It just kind of came together in God’s work. It’s pretty neat because it wasn’t planned.”
While the Woodland Hills teammates took different paths to Pitt, the trio of Clairton freshmen — Tyler Boyd, Terrish Webb and Titus Howard — always talked about playing college football together.
Clairton, which is located a few miles outside of Pittsburgh, has won four straight Class A Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championships and is currently on a 63-game winning streak — a state record and the longest current winning streak in the country for a high school football team.
For Boyd, attempting to carry this success to the next level with his high school teammates was a no-brainer.
“From day one we were thinking, ‘What if we could all go to the same school?’” freshman wide receiver Boyd said.
When Boyd, along with teammates Howard and Webb arrived at Pitt, two former Bears were already there to show them the ropes — redshirt freshman Trenton Coles and redshirt junior Kevin Weatherspoon.
Coles and Weatherspoon even guided their former teammates through the recruiting process.
“They give me advice because they’ve been through this already,” Webb said. “During the recruiting process, they told me the coaches will be different than on the field. They told me that with Chryst, Pitt had a very good staff coming in, and I took it into consideration.”
Now that they’re all Panthers, the former Clairton players are competing all over the practice field. Webb, Howard and Coles are all in the secondary competing for playing time. They also complement each other well because they’ve played together for so long.
“Since we know each other so well, we can play fast,” Coles said. “We’re used to playing with each other, so it’s easier.”
They also know when their teammates need to be picked up.
“Playing with them so long, they know your emotions,” Webb said. “If you’re down, they’re pushing you and keeping you up.”
Although they’re in blue and gold now, the former Bears still feel at home.
“It feels like the same thing. Just like we’re about to play for the Clairton Bears,” Boyd said. “They showed us everything it took to win championships. Now, we’re still following them here.”
Despite Clairton’s unprecedented success in Pennsylvania high school football, the players still receive some skepticism because of their opponents’ talent level at the state’s lowest classification — Class A — which is reserved for the smallest high schools.
“Once you get here, they always talk about, ‘You came from a Single-A school,’” Coles said. “We use that to push ourselves and make plays. We want to beat them out because they think because we’re from a smaller school, we can’t compete.”
Jevonte, who played in Pennsylvania’s highest classification, Class AAAA, at Woodland Hills, doesn’t look down upon his Clairton teammates.
“I grew up in Duquesne, so I’ve seen all of the Single-A players,” he said. “Talent-wise, those Clairton players can match up with anybody.”
Perhaps the Pitt football team can use a little bit of the winning ways that the Clairton freshmen bring, as the trio carries a 63-game win streak into the program from their time together in high school.
“Even though we’re out of Clairton, we’re trying to make it to 64 and just keep going and going,” Webb said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to.”