Don’t be surprised to look up in a couple years and see Pittsburgh featuring one of the best backfields in college football.
We absolutely loved the running back Pat Narduzzi and the Panthers signed in 2020 in Israel Abanikanda who we tabbed as the No. 1 player in New York, No. 14 running back in the country and No. 160 prospect overall per the Top247. Abanikanda is an every-down back with great speed – a blistering fast 10.69 in the 100m dash – who used those wheels to average nearly 10-yards per carry in rushing for 1,350 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior.
The 5-foot-11, Abanikanda was the Gatorade Player of the Year for his state, also snagging three rushing touchdowns and scoring twice on kick returns. He’ll be an instant impact player for Narduzzi and company this fall. To what degree time will tell.
Eventually Abanikanda will share the load with Tuesday night’s commitment in 2021 running back Malik Newton, who led Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor to a state title, having as dominant a season as just about any player nationally. Newton posting big rushing numbers totaling 2,060 yards and 35 touchdowns with 57 tackles, six interceptions, a forced fumble and seven pass breakups rarely leaving he field en route to a ring. In the title tilt he caught a 31-yard score, rushed for another and had a game-clinching interception.
The 5-foot-11 1/2, 223-pound Newton isn’t the home run hitter Abanikanda is, but not many are. What the powerful Newton possesses is nice vision and balance, he can make people miss between the tackles, has agility in the hole, tacklers slide off him as he churns out chunks of yardage on nearly every carry. He’s an instinctual football player that also shines on the diamond and will also play baseball for the Panthers.
Following that huge junior campaign, Newton went down to San Antonio in January and earned a spot in the 247Sports All-Combine team at the All-American Bowl National Combine where he showed nimble route running and strong hands.
This marks two straight recruiting cycles that Pittsburgh landed the top running back target on their board. With many of the nation’s top programs showcasing multiple running backs on Saturdays, I expect it will ultimately be no different for the Panthers down the road.
Newton’s other offers included Maryland, Nebraska, Penn State and Pittsburgh. His commitment pushes Pitt up one spot to No. 22 in the 247Sports Composite Team Recruiting Rankings, with his lead recruiter Chris Beatty doing nice work in his home state as the Virginia native has also been instrumental in the Panthers also landing athlete Rodney Hammond, athlete Myles Alston and defensive end Trevion Stevenson this cycle.
We’ve seen some outstanding running backs at Pittsburgh as of late with Qadree Ollison and James Conner having terrific careers in the Steel City and before them the likes of Dion Lewis and LeSean McCoy. Abanikanda and now Newton have next.