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Stephens to Pitt:  There's good news and better news
Doug Keklak
Trojan Nation 4/22/2004

When I listened to the voicemail that one of my Trojan insiders left for me this morning at 7:00AM I was happy but not surprised.  He informed me that Larod Stephens had verbally committed to continue his academic and athletic career at the University of Pittsburgh.  Other sources had told me that Coach Walt Harris himself was looking for Stephens.  Selfishly, it's a great choice for me as a grad of Johnstown and a lifelong Pitt fan (as well as grad of Pitt-Johnstown, the best damn branch campus period!)  As a season ticker holder, why wouldn't I want him in Panther blue and gold? That is the good news. 
Yes, I do realize that Anthony Morelli and Andrew Johnson recently proved that verbal commitments are not worth the paper they are printed on.  Somehow I think that is apples and oranges when looking at Stephens.  I truly believe all the pieces I have read that state he wants to just enjoy his senior season without all the fanfare of the recruiting game.  I look forward to a focused, distraction-free 2004 season now with this important detail out of the way.
This could also be construed as a sweet victory for District 6 over the mighty WPIAL on the recruiting trails.  According to some accounts, Pitt was courting Central Catholic's Eugene Jarvis along with Stephens.  Many think Stephens' early commitment most likely means Pitt will pass on Jarvis.  To borrow a phrase from Lee Corso, "not so fast my friend!"  My criticism of Walt Harris is well known in my circle of friends.  If that logic were true, then why would have Harris taken both Tyler Palko AND Luke Getsy as eventual successors to Rod Rutherford. 
In depth criticism of Harris is probably a topic for another day, but let us remember that in the 2002 season Harris had about as tough a time settling on a starting tailback as he did during the John Turman/David Priestly era at quarterback.  However, the numbers are thinning, Brandon Miree is gone to graduation, Ray Kirkley is a senior to be and when Stephens is ready to come on the field as a freshman, Erie Cathedral Prep product Javon Walker will be a senior.  Marcus Furman, the record-setter from Connellsville who has been flip-flopped between running back, defensive back and now back to running back will also be gone when the 2005 season rolls around.  My right wing friends might consider Walt to be the original John Kerry.  There is one difference though, in order to truthfully flip-flop you actually have to make a decision in the first place!
Stephens might be the true west-coast style running back that Walt Harris has yet to have at Pitt.  Billy West, Nick Goings, Kevan Barlow, Brandon Miree and Ray Kirkley were all more power backs.  Stephens has the breakaway speed to catch passes out of the backfield and get the all-important yards-after-catch.  He could line up in the slot a la Marshall Faulk as well all the while still maintaining the skills of being an every down running back, being able to run between the tackles as well as outside of them. 
In fact, there is no shortage of offensive talent for future Pitt squads.  A young group of wide receivers that includes Terrell Allen, Greg Lee and Kennard Cox (you might remember his cousin Torrie) will probably continue the Wide Receiver U. tradition passed down by past Wide Receivers, namely Latef Grim, Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald.  Palko and Getsy were both critically acclaimed as high school quarterbacks at West Allegheny and Steel Valley respectively.  Mark Yezovich will most likely eventually assume fullback duties from fellow Woodland Hills alum Lousaka Polite (Yezovich is one of the few Woodland Hills players to start on both sides of the ball).  Why not through an all-state tailback in that mix?
I realize I am getting way ahead of myself but these are just random thoughts.  Stephens will be the first JHS grad to play at a major Division I football program since Geroy Simon starred at Maryland and that is great news.  However, the better news is that he still has his senior year at JHS ahead of him.  Every team in the LHAC will do their best to stop Stephens, but with another strong year from his line and fullback along with the athletic ability he brings to the table, I doubt many will.
See you at Trojan Stadium.
Doug Keklak can be reached at


Trojan Nation 2004

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