Right At Home

Right At Home

P.J. Shirdan said he felt "right at home" on West Virginia's campus from almost the first moments of his first official visit to the home of Mountaineer football. What was it that caused the Drexel Hill, Pa. standout to get that feeling and commit to WVU before his senior season began?

"When I came down and was walking the hallways and going through the locker room, everyone was really friendly," the well-spoken Shirdan said. "No one had any idea who I was, but they all took the time to greet me, say hello, welcome to West Virginia, and things like that. I visited some other schools, and it wasn't like that at those places. The players at West Virginia, who are my teammates now, came up to me and talked. The assistant coaches all talked to me, and were really great. I felt like it was my team already."

Shirdan, who values the feeling of family, was duly impressed, so much so that when he came back to West Virginia recently, he knew a commitment was just a matter of time. Therefore, after meeting with head coach Rich Rodriguez following a camp practice session, he committed to WVU.

Helping that decision along were several other ties to West Virginia – all of which figured in his decision-making process.

"My head coach, Jim Burner, was the coach at Valley Forge Military Academy for a long time, and he sent several players to West Virginia," Shirdan said. "Anthony Becht, who went to my high school – I worked at a camp of his -- and we talked about WVU a lot. He had great things to say about his time there. And one of the guys I worked with at camp, Scooter Davis, went to West Virginia too. He told me what a great opportunity he had there, and that he liked it a lot."

West Virginia also benefited by sticking with Shirdan following a spring setback that had many other schools running for cover. The safety/wide receiver, who had just completed an impressive combine performance in a Nike combine, suffered a major setback a couple of weeks later that drastically changed the recruiting process for him. "I went to a combine at O'Hara (High School) in May, and went to catch a pass on a slant," he recalled of the fateful day. "I went up and got it, but I came down on one leg and landed wrong [and tore my ACL]. It was awful. But I had surgery six weeks ago, and I am recovering quickly. My doctor said the reconstruction went very well, and it was one of the best results he had ever seen. I didn't have any other injury [in the knee], so he was able to put it back and repair it. He said it should be stronger than it was before.

"I can run, but I can't have contact yet," he continued. "My rehab is going well, and I'm shooting to try to come back in mid-October. Some people have said that maybe I shouldn't try to come back at all this year, but I want to play football."

A confident player who doesn't cross the line into cockiness, Shirdan believes that he would have gotten many more offers had the injury not occurred.

"After the Nike combine, I had a bunch of schools calling me and texting me," he said. "Penn State, Vanderbilt, North Carolina and Rutgers were all contacting me a lot, and I think they would have offered me. "But I was really happy WVU stuck with me. They told me, ‘We don't care about the injury. We want you to come and play with us.' That made me feel good."

Followers of the WVU recruiting scene will certainly be quick to recall a similar situation a few years ago, when running back Avon Cobourne suffered a knee injury in high school that caused numerous suitors to back away from offers. West Virginia, honoring its commitment, ended up with an outstanding running back that rewrote several records in gold and blue.

"The training staff talked to me about him," said Shirdan, who is familiar with Cobourne's story. "They told me how they stuck with him, and how he came back."

One difference between the pair, however, is that Shirdan will be a defender in college. An admitted contact fiend, he likes dishing out hits.

"I played wide receiver the last five games last year along with safety, and I will play both again this year when I come back, but I will be a safety at West Virginia," he noted. "Defense is better for me. I like defense a lot better. I like to hit. It's in my blood."

For now, Shirdan's concentration is on getting back into playing shape. He lost 15 pounds following his knee surgery, and is working in the weight room to regain his strength. He'll also concentrate on improving his footwork and picking up quickness once he's cleared to play. That, and adjusting to a growth spurt.

"I was 6-1 at the combine, but I'm over 6-2 now," said Shirdan. "My playing weight is around 195, but I think I'll be around 205 by next year, and maybe 6-3. I want to improve my speed some. I didn't run at the Nike combine, but I'm around a 4.6."

NOTES

Shirdan is also a track competitor who earned all-state honors as a high jumper. He also participates in the 400-meter dash, triple jump and long jump. He was an All-Catholic league selection on defense last year as a junior.

* * *

The loquacious defender also gets it done in the classroom. He carries a 3.5 GPA and scored a 1010 on a recent SAT, and thus should have no problems qualifying. He is considering a double major in business management and athletic training.

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