PITTSBURGH -- Dave Wannstedt may be 57, but he's still trying to catch 82-year-old Joe Paterno.
When Wannstedt was hired by alma mater Pittsburgh before the 2005 football season, one of his first promises was that the Panthers would erect a virtual fence around western Pennsylvania and dissuade the area's top high school recruits from going elsewhere.
Paterno and Penn State? They could go into Ohio or Michigan, New York or New Jersey, but Pittsburgh's backyard belonged to Pitt.
For a few years, Pitt was the dominant school not only in western Pennsylvania, but also on some of Penn State's prime recruiting turf. Their best recruit, running back LeSean McCoy, came out of Penn State's epicenter in Harrisburg.
That's changing, however, and Penn State's renewed dominance is forcing Wannstedt to increasingly leave the state to land his prime recruits -- and to explain why players who seemed likely to attend Pitt are going elsewhere.
Already this summer, the Panthers have lost linemen Miles Dieffenbach, the son of Pitt's tennis coach, and Tom Ricketts to Penn State. Ricketts' dad, also named Tom, was one of the top linemen in Pitt history and was a Steelers' first-round draft pick 20 years ago.
There's more. Of the first eight western Pennsylvania players offered scholarships by Pitt, only one committed to the Panthers. Five committed to Penn State, which, despite Paterno's age, is coming off an 11-2 season and has won 40 games the past four seasons.
Pitt went 9-4 for its first winning record in Wannstedt's four seasons, only to lose to Oregon State 3-0 in an ineptly played Sun Bowl that took some of the shine off a season highlighted by a second consecutive victory over West Virginia.
Despite Wannstedt's determination to run a disciplined program that graduates its players and sends a lot of them to the NFL, the Panthers have had at least three players involved in off-field incidents.
Wide receiver T.J. Porter (alcohol) was thrown off the team, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin was charged with the assault of a female student and linebacker Adam Gunn -- an honors student and team leader -- was accused of disorderly conduct and other offenses following a nightclub altercation. Gunn was reinstated after the charges were dropped.
Also, defensive lineman Tommie Duhart was thrown off the team for disciplinary reasons.
"I won't tolerate anything like that," Wannstedt said. "I believe we have some great kids who made some mistakes, but they'll be dealt with accordingly. And we'll move forward."
Despite those problems, Wannstedt is convinced a program that returned to the Top 25 for most of last season isn't going in the wrong direction less than two months before preseason camp begins.
Not that Wannstedt is ever far away from football -- he wraps up nearly a month's worth of high school and youth summer camps this weekend. About 650 players will attend his prospect camps in June, up tenfold from when he arrived.
"The first year we got here, we had to re-establish that we were going to get in there and throw [recruiting] punches with Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and West Virginia," Wannstedt said. "If there was a kid we wanted, we weren't going to shy away from him. And I think we've gotten our share."
Not long after Dieffenbach and Ricketts gave verbal commitments to Penn State, Wannstedt snatched T.J. Clemmings, a 6-foot-6, 266-pound defensive lineman from Paterson (N.J.) Catholic who was also sought by Penn State, Notre Dame, Florida, Tennessee and Rutgers.
Also giving a commitment was Jeff Knox, a safety from DeMatha Catholic in Maryland who was being recruited by Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State. Pitt also landed one of Pennsylvania's top wide receivers, Salath Williams of Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt, McCoy's former school. Williams had more than 20 offers.
"I think we're right where we need to be," said Wannstedt, who isn't permitted by NCAA rules to discuss specific recruits until February. "The key is to get a few of those top guys, wherever you can get them, and then hit on those bottom 10 guys or so, the ones who aren't as highly ranked.
"We're not going to have a good [recruiting] class, we're going to have a great class."
The off-field incidents may not substantially hurt Pitt's in-state recruiting, if only because Penn State -- despite its resurgence -- has had more such incidents in recent years. ESPN broadcast a piece last summer that outlined the Nittany Lions' numerous arrests, yet they went on to win 11 of their first 12 games.
Pitt's players are expected to take part in community work, with some donating time this summer to the Mel Blount Youth Home and others helping on fundraising for the three Pittsburgh policemen who were shot to death last spring.
"It helps support the right way to do things," Wannstedt said. "I don't tolerate these kinds of [disciplinary problems], but I believe they are behind us," he said.