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ACC leads conferences in watch lists for Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award

Last week, I mentioned that Pitt had several three players on the preseason watch lists for the Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award. Those players were Brian O'Neill and Alex Officer (both Outland) and Jordan Whitehead (Nagurski).

But ACCFootballRx notes that the ACC in general placed quite a few players on those list. In fact, the conference leads all others in terms of players named.

In all, 17 linemen were named to the Outland watch list while 20 players were on the watch list for the Nagurski Award.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlogfor our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Quadree Henderson named to Maxwell Watch List

Several Pitt players have been named to preseason college football award watch lists and one of those was Quadree Henderson. Henderson burst onto the scene last year with a big season primarily as a return man, gaining All-American status. After that year, he's on the radar of award voters for this season and he was one of 85 players named to the watch list for one of the bigger awards in the Maxwell, given to the top overall player in college football.

Henderson is one of the better all purpose players in college football. On top of his four touchdowns as a return specialist, he also had 631 rushing yards to go along with 26 catches for 286 yards and a total of six rushing and receiving touchdowns.

Despite the fact that Henderson is poised for a big season in 2017, there's no doubt that his chances of seriously competing for this award are slim. Still, it's great to see him recognized as one of the top players in college football.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlogfor our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pat Narduzzi wants more improvement from Quadree Henderson as receiver

The narrative of Quadree Henderson needing to improve as a wide receiver isn't a new one. Henderson, already a world class (and All-American) kick/punt returner, also excelled as a running back, piling up 630 yards on the ground and five touchdowns.

Where Henderson struggled a little was making an impact as a pass-catcher. On the season as a starter, he had a modest 26 catches for 286 yards and only a single touchdown. As such a dynamic performer with the ball in his hands, Narduzzi is hoping he becomes a better receiver this season.

During the spring, the head coach said it wasn't a matter of his hands, rather, his route running. He hoped to see a lot of improvement out of Henderson and he echoed that sentiment on Friday, too.

"He needs to become an elite receiver," Narduzzi said Friday at the ACC's football kickoff event. "It's great to hand the ball off if he wants to be a running back. But if he wants to play at the next level, he's not going to do it just as a return guy. If he wants to be a tailback, be a tailback. But he needs to be better on the field reading coverages, getting vertical and making big plays down the field. That's been a major focus in the offseason."

If you just take that comment at face value, it can almost read as if he was a little annoyed at Henderson. Of course, that isn't true. Narduzzi was clearly talking about Henderson showcasing more so that he can get to the NFL. He also kind of reiterated that point.

"He wants it, too," Narduzzi said. "He understands that. It's not something where he's satisfied with getting handoffs and maybe catching a bubble once in a while. He has to be a deep threat to play at the next level."

Can he be elite? I don't know. He has the speed and elusiveness, as evidenced by the work he does in the return game and as a running back. But using those tools isn't enough on their own. He has to run routes with pinpoint accuracy, gain separation, find holes in coverage, be mindful to hold onto the ball, catch the ball, etc. There's a lot more to it than simply being fast and shifty.

I'm not sure what a reasonable goal is for Henderson. I always hate to simply put numbers on something and say, 'if he does this, he was successful.' So much of it is situational. I'd take a 3rd down catch and conversion over three meaningless catches, for example. But Henderson will also need to bump up his stats, too, to get more notice by NFL teams. At the risk of quantifying too much, a good starter for him this season might be to get to about 40 catches and 500 yards.

Personally, I don't care where his yardage comes from so much. If he's killing it on the jet sweeps again and Pitt is moving the ball, I'm happy. This is more about continuing his development as a receiver so that, as Narduzzi says, he gets more looks at the next level.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Despite changes, Ryan Luther never considered transferring from Pitt basketball

Pittsburgh Sports Now had a good interview up with Pitt basketball player Ryan Luther. The forward/center said that, despite all of the changes and uncertainty about this year, transferring wasn't an option to him:

He also wants to make something else clear. The decision-making processes that led to five of his teammates transferring never entered his mind. Not for a minute. "No," he said bluntly when asked if he ever considered transferring. "When I chose to come here to Pitt, it was for a lot of reasons, it wasn’t just one. I made a commitment and I’m sticking to it. … It’s my last go around. Especially being from here. I wanted to leave it all out there and have no regrets."

Luther surely would have had offers elsewhere had he wanted to leave, so it's not as if he had no choice in the matter.

His words about making a commitment and sticking to it are interesting. Was that an indirect shot at other players that decided to bail on the team? Beats me, but given the Cam Johnson departure, especially, those words are sure to make people think about that.

Luther's also in line for a lot of fan support for sticking out what could be a really challenging year. I have no doubt that fans will remember his commitment and that it will be drummed up quite a bit during many of Pitt's broadcasts, as well it should. That kid deserves a lot of credit for sticking around and one good thing is that he should have plenty of opportunity to showcase his abilities on such a young team where he is, by far, the most experienced player returning.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pat Narduzzi optimistic that incoming recruit Paris Ford will be eligible for Pitt football

While there's a lot of optimism heading into this year's Pitt football season, a cloud of sorts hangs over the program as we inch closer to training camp - the eligibility of incoming recruit Paris Ford.

Ford was the gem of a solid recruiting class for the Panthers. And as a defensive back, where Pitt needs significant help, it was hoped that he could contribute right away as a true freshman. But Ford is not yet academically eligible. On Friday, head coach Pat Narduzzi seems cautiously optimistic that Ford will be ready.

Narduzzi says Paris Ford "has a plan" to get academically eligible for fall camp. He's not currently enrolled but "has a good chance." — David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) July 14, 2017

That's not a guarantee but Narduzzi also doesn't seem to believe it can't get done. Whatever Ford still has to accomplish, Pitt will obviously be better off if he's available. Even if he doesn't contribute much this year, he would benefit from getting into the program as soon as possible.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

No update yet on Alex Bookser's discipline from Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi

Pitt offensive lineman Alex Bookser was charged with a DUI back in May. Even though it's been about two months since the incident, head coach Pat Narduzzi still doesn't have an update yet on his status for the upcoming season with regards to disciplinary action.

“Not right now,” Narduzzi said at ACC media day when asked if a punishment has been finalized. “Me and Bookser have talked about it, but that’s about it.” Narduzzi conceded that a resolution could be announced before camp starts. Or maybe the week of the season opener against Youngstown State. “I don’t know. We’ll play it by ear,” he said.

Of note also is that Narduzzi said athletic director Heather Lyke would have a say and that he would discuss whatever the decision was with her.

You never know but it seems hard to believe Bookser wouldn't miss any game time. But if you were hoping for a decision, that still seems far off. That's not too surprising since his preliminary hearing scheduled for June was reportedly pushed back until August. This may still not get settled for some time.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

 ‘Kissing defense’ leads to reversal of sprinter’s drug ban

“Kiss and tell” turned out to be a winning defense for Olympic gold medal sprinter Gil Roberts.

>> Read more trending news

Roberts, who was suspended in May for a positive drug test, had that ban lifted by an arbitrator, ESPN reported. The arbitrator upheld Roberts’ contention that the drug was in his system due to the frequent and passionate kissing of his girlfriend.

Roberts was part of the United States’ 4-by-400 relay team that won a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. In March he tested positive for the drug probenecid, and two months later the United States Anti-Doping Agency said Roberts’ B sample also tested positive for the drug, which is a masking agent.

Roberts’ girlfriend, Alex Salazar, was taking the drug Moxylong for a sinus infection, ESPN reported. Roberts and Salazar told the arbitrator that they “kissed frequently and passionately,” including on March 24, the day Roberts was originally tested, ESPN reported.

Roberts testified he did not know that kissing his girlfriend would lead to a positive drug test.

“It must have been like lightning out of a clear blue sky for (Roberts) to learn that by kissing his girlfriend this time that he was exposing himself to a banned substance,” the USADA said in its ruling.

Floyd Mayweather’s hype: Obama might show up for fight

Boxer Floyd Mayweather continued to hype his upcoming  light-middleweight fight with mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor, saying he has some huge surprises in store for the Aug. 26 fight in Las Vegas.

>> Read more trending news

“Barack Obama may be there. Donald Trump may be there,” Mayweather told TMZ Sports. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a star-studded event.”

There is no word from Obama or his spokesman as to whether the former president will attend the fight at T-Mobile Arena. As for Trump, UFC president Dana White said the president “100 percent had interest” in the fight, but likely will not attend because he does not want to “ruin the event” with the security measures that would be necessary for Trump to visit.

Pitt soccer recruiting heating up with Kizza Edward and Chandler Vaughn

The Pitt men's soccer team hasn't had much success since joining the ACC. In fact, the program is still searching for its first conference win after four ACC seasons. That doesn't mean head coach Jay Vidovich can't recruit, though.

Despite the lack of success, the recruiting for the soccer program has been above average considering how bad the team has been on the field. In this year's class, Vidovich managed to snag a top 50 (#41) recruit in forward Kizza Edward. Edward is one of nine incoming recruits and also in that class is a top 100 player (#81) in midfielder Colin Brezniak. Given all of that, the 2017 class proved to be a solid one for a team that won only two games last season.

Vidovich is also off and running for 2018, too. U.S. U17 Men's National Team defender Chandler Vaughn, which TopDrawerSoccer lists as the No. 17 overall recruit for 2018, committed to the program. And while Vaughn is #17 in those rankings, he's actually all the way up at No. 10 here.

These are, to say the least, really impressive hauls. They would be great gets for any program but if you can pull these kind of recruits with such a struggling program, it's a very good indicator that you're doing one heck of a recruiting job in selling your vision. And if you can sell the vision without any track record of success at the program, imagine what you can do when you're actually winning some games. Even modest on-field improvement should help Vidovich even more.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Jordan Whitehead named to preseason watch list for Jim Thorpe Award

Yesterday, Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead was named to the preseason watch list for the Nagurski Award. On Friday, he was named as an early candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award given to the top defensive back.

As mentioned earlier, Whitehead will try his hand at a new position moving from strong safety to free safety. The move should provide more opportunities for interceptions, which should help his chances of competing for the award. While an outstanding tackler for Pitt in his first two seasons, Whitehead has only two career picks (one returned for a touchdown).

While the award is going to be more attainable than the Nagurski, Whitehead would still need to register a tremendous season to even garner serious consideration.

A total of 45 players were listed on the watch list, including seven from the ACC.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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