BY JAMES COOK email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
— TRAVERSE CITY — Connor Hayes found what he thinks is a perfect fit.
The Traverse City West junior offensive guard committed Monday to play for the University of Pittsburgh, becoming the first commit to the school's 2014 recruiting class.
"It's a big relief," Hayes said of getting the recruiting process done before his Titans senior season started. "I didn't want to wait too long and didn't want to weigh my options any longer. It just felt like such a right choice that I didn't feel the need to wait much longer."
The Panthers turned the program over to former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who is bringing the Badgers' power running game to Pitt.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Hayes and his powerful drive blocking seem like a perfect fit.
"I just really felt I fit in best there," Hayes said. "Their program, what they're trying to do there, their offense. I felt really comfortable with their coaches. Just all around, it felt like it was the place for me."
Hayes said coaches told him he could be in the mix for playing time after likely redshirting next season. Pitt has 10 offensive linemen returning from last year's 6-7 team, and the top four guards on the spring two-deep depth chart are all juniors and seniors.
"They're a blue-collar type of football team," Hayes said. "It's going to be more of a running offense, rather than the spread, which a lot of teams are going to. And a lot of pulling with the offensive linemen. That's a lot of what I do and what I'm best at. It'll be very fun to play for a power offense."
He could play some center at Pitt — a position he has practiced at West, but never played in game action.
"They really liked his physicalness," TC West coach Tim Wooer said. "They want to be able to line up in the I formation and run it right at you. And Connor fits that mold. I think he'll be a great fit for the program.
"They're getting a kid that's an extremely physical football player. He doesn't even turn 17 until the end of July. He's young. He's 6-4 and 300 pounds. And he's still got some growing to do."
Hayes is rated a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, and he chose Pitt over offers from Duke, Indiana, Syracuse, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Toledo. He also had interest from Nebraska and Minnesota.
"In 20 years of coaching football, he's probably the most physical player I've ever had," Wooer said. "Most physical offensive lineman, for sure. Craig Wilson was a great player and Jake Fisher was great and extremely athletic. But right at the point of battle right at the line of scrimmage, I don't know if I've ever coached one better than Connor."
A three-year starter, Hayes is one of only four freshmen to play on the Titans varsity in the past 20 years.