A game into the postseason last November, the thought of Cheyton Pine signing a Division I football college scholarship before his senior season was inconceivable. But four impressive playoff performances, 18 scholarship offers and a half-dozen campus visits later, Pine is on his way to D-I.
Pine, a rising senior at Lafayette High, said Monday that he has committed to play for the University of Pittsburgh. He cited the close relationship he has built with Panthers linebackers coach Rob Harley and his desire to play for new head coach Pat Narduzzi.
Before taking the position at Pitt, Narduzzi earned national recognition for helping Michigan State become a fixture in the national top 10 by building defenses that were among the best in the country. Pine said Harley and Narduzzi convinced him that he could play early at outside linebacker for the Panthers.
“They feel I can guard receivers in the slot, run with tight ends and tackle running backs in the open field,” Pine said. “They said I have a linebacker’s mentality.”
It’s an attitude Pine, 6-foot-3 1/2, 220 pounds, has displayed since moving into the defensive starting lineup in November for Lafayette’s second playoff game. During the Rams’ ensuing four-game run that fell just six points short of a Group 3A state title, Pine had numerous sacks and tackles for loss as well as two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown.
Soon after Rams coach Andy Linn sent out a highlight video on Pine, Division I recruiters began flocking to Lafayette, where Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor long ago began the school’s tradition of linebacking excellence.
“They saw that Cheyton was a playmaker,” Linn said of the highlight video. “Then when they came to the school and saw that he was as big as we said, they knew he could play Division I.”
Most of his early offers were from smaller Football Bowl Subdivision or Football Championship Subdivision schools. But soon, larger schools such as Pitt, Virginia Tech, Georgia and North Carolina made offers, culminating in a recent visit to Notre Dame.
Pine made up his mind to play for Pitt during a visit to a one-day camp there last week. It was his second visit.
“I've wanted to play in the ACC since I was younger,” he said. “A lot of people can come see me because almost any ACC game will be close.
“Coach Harley is probably the biggest reason for my decision to go to Pittsburgh. I liked how energetic he was, running around the field yelling at the players.”
Linn said, “Cheyton made this decision for all the right reasons. Pittsburgh is not that far away, he has a chance to play early there and the guy who recruited him is his position coach.
“I think Cheyton realized he has a lot on his plate this coming season at Lafayette, because he’ll be starting at quarterback and on defense, so this takes a whole load off of his shoulders. Now he can go out and have fun.”
Pine, who said he will major in sports medicine at Pitt, agreed.
“I finally get to relax and honestly just play my game for Lafayette, knowing that I have somewhere I’m going in college,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I won’t play my hardest, so I think this (decision) will make me a better player.
“I didn’t think this was possible this time last year. But I’ve been doubted my whole life and I know I can handle myself with the big boys.”
O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.