Belle Vernon’s Zubovic, Penn-Trafford’s Hawkins ink with Pitt, Akron during early signing period

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Thursday, December 21, 2017 | 10:50 AM


It’s official: “Big Z” and “Bubba” are Division I football players.

A pair of standout linemen from Westmoreland County solidified their commitments Wednesday, the start of the NCAA’s new early signing period for football.

Before the first school bell rang Wednesday morning, Belle Vernon’s Blake Zubovic signed with Pitt and Logan Hawkins of Penn-Trafford with Akron, legitimizing long-term verbal pledges with those programs.

In the past, Division I commits had to wait until early February to sign letters of intent. The new signing period runs through Friday.

Clad in a Pitt script hat, a royal blue dress shirt and a gold bow tie to match the Panthers’ traditional colors, Zubovic made his verbal declaration official.

“When you put pen to paper, you actually feel like you are part of the team,” said Zubovic, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound two-way tackle. “Now it’s time to get to work.”

Hawkins (6-2, 270) was glad to have the chance to sign early, even though the process was still new to him — as it was to the rest of the 2018 recruiting class, which didn’t know any different.

“It’s relieving,” Hawkins said. “I have been up on campus a lot, and on my official visit. Just finally putting pen to paper really makes it feel like you’re a part of the team.”

Zubovic dealt with an ankle injury early in the season but still helped the Leopards (10-1) win the Big Nine Conference title and reach the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals.

Zubovic was the second Pitt commit to fax his signed letter to Oakland. But he wanted to be the first.

Devin Danielson of Thomas Jefferson, another promising lineman, beat him to the punch.

“I was the second,” Zubovic said with a smile. “Our fax machine jammed up so we were pretty upset. But we’re relieved; it’s all done with now.”

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi called Zubovic “our best recruit” and “a guy that kept everything together with our recruiting class.”

“When we’re watching ball, he’s on the outside recruiting, so he’s got a great personality and does a great job,” Narduzzi said.

Hawkins helped lead Penn-Trafford to two WPIAL championship appearances in three years. This past season, the Warriors went 11-2 and earned the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

Akron went 7-7 this season but lost to Florida Atlantic, 50-3, in Tuesday’s Boca Raton Bowl.

“They had one of their best years in a while,” Hawkins said. “Hopefully, I can come in make it even better and help keep that team good.”

Hawkins dressed as Santa Claus and anchored the student section for Wednesday night’s home basketball doubleheader against Latrobe.

A three-year starter, Hawkins played all five positions on the Warriors’ offensive line. And he pancaked many opponents from his nose guard spot. He made regular visits to the opposing backfield throughout the playoffs.

“Logan’s best attribute is his athleticism for being a big guy,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “We haven’t seen a guy move like this up front in a long time. He is explosive. He can do a lot of agile things. Combine that with his strength and raw power.”

Zubovic and Hawkins did not truly perceive Division I college careers until their junior seasons, when interest turned into offers and the reality began to come to fruition.

“Once I started actually talking to schools, that’s when it finally became a reality,” Hawkins said.

Neither Zubovic nor Hawkins will enroll early for the spring semester but both said they could see the benefits of signing early: schools securing pledges they know are locks, and players making sure to nail down their scholarships.

“I had no interest in changing my mind,” Zubovic said. “There was no reason to wait. I’m committed to (Pitt), and I know they’re committed to me.”

The traditional signing period starts Feb. 7.

“It helps students out who might be nervous about grades or anything,” Hawkins said. “Just to finally get it over with and get ready to go.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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