If Panther fans didn’t know the name “Saleem Brightwell” before November 12th, they certainly learned it that night. Pitt’s redshirt freshman linebacker intercepted Heisman Trophy runner-up Desean Watson on the goal line, returning the ball 70-yards to keep the Panthers alive in their eventual upset victory over Clemson. Now that Saleem’s name is well known amongst Pitt’s fan base, it is time to introduce another name that may someday line up on defense for the Blue and Gold. That name is Ali Brightwell.
Ali Brightwell, the younger brother of Saleem, is a junior outside linebacker at New Jersey’s Paramus Catholic High School. Ali recently concluded his first year as a starter for Paramus by helping his team win the NJSIM Non-Public Group 4 division state championship, the same division as esteemed programs like Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic.
“It was a nice experience,” said Ali of his junior season. “I wasn’t supposed to start in the beginning of the season. I was a backup for Khyon Fitzpatrick, and then when Drew Singleton got hurt, that’s when they put me in the starting spot. And then I just did what I had to do.”
Filling in for senior Drew Singleton is no easy task. Singleton, a 4-star linebacker on Rivals.com, holds offers from schools like Alabama, Ohio State, and Michigan. However, Brightwell quickly proved he was up to the task. In his first game starting at outside linebacker, Ali secured the Paladins’ victory over DePaul Catholic with an interception. From that moment on, the 6’3” 200-pounder continued to build upon his success.
“I think I did pretty well,” Brightwell said. “Pretty good. It was a nice season for me. The coaches, they really put their trust in me, putting me in the starting lineup when Drew got hurt.”
Paramus Catholic receives the attention of Power 5 programs since it routinely produces FBS-caliber talent. Names like Jabrill Peppers (a 2016 Heisman Trophy finalist) and Rashaun Gary (2016’s top rated recruit on Rivals.com) highlight the alumni from the past five years. Although college coaches are currently focused on finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes, Brightwell is receiving attention from multiple FBS programs, including Pitt.
“A few schools have talked to me. Pitt talked to me a few times. When I was in school, Syracuse came a few weeks ago, and one of the defensive coaches talked to me. Duke came—one of the defensive coaches from Duke came and talked to me…Pitt usually talks to me like every once in a while. Coach Harley, Coach Kabala, and Coach Salem usually talk to me.”
Having a brother on the football team, Ali is already familiar with the University of Pittsburgh. He has toured the campus, visited its dorms, and viewed campus facilities with Saleem. As a supportive brother, he also attends Saleem’s games at Heinz Field when provided the opportunity.
“I’ve been there a few times, been to a few games,” said Ali. “I like the atmosphere, I like the coaches, I like the players. I really like it there.”
Despite contact with multiple universities, Ali has yet to receive his first scholarship offer. If Pitt were to extend an offer to the younger Brightwell, their chances of landing his commitment look promising.
“I really like it [at Pitt]. So they have a big chance of getting me.”
The prospect of playing on the same team as his older brother is one of the factors that give Pitt such a “big chance” in landing a commitment from Ali, should Pitt eventually extend an offer.
“That would definitely mean a lot. I look up to him, so I would love to play on the same field as him.”
Due to the graduation of key offensive contributors, Ali’s high school coaches have informed him that he should expect to see time at wide receiver next season in addition to his duties on defense. In college, he sees himself lining up at either linebacker or safety, the two positions at which he holds experience. According to Brightwell, his team will receive a talented player regardless of which defensive position he occupies.
“Well I can do about everything,” Ali asserts. “I can play man coverage, zone coverage. I can make tackles, open field tackles. Whatever you need. Get sacks, force fumbles, do other things. Play safety, linebacker.”
Check out my Junior season highlights 💯😎💍 https://t.co/arJGDdFkUU
— Ali Brightwell (@alibrightwell2) December 6, 2016
Ali sounds confident in his capabilities on defense. With 55 total tackles, .5 sacks, and an interception in his first season as a starter, his production certainly supports his right to feel as such. However, the junior recognizes he still has areas where he can improve before his senior season.
“I’m working on getting bigger—filling out a little bit,” he professed. “Working on my man coverage. I can play man [coverage], but I could be better at it. I got beat a few times this season and I have to work at that.”
After concluding our telephone conversation, we quickly exchanged messages over Twitter to finalize material for this article. At that point, Ali thanked me for the interview, when it is I who should be grateful for his time. Politeness and gratitude can be added to Brightwell’s growing résumé—a résumé that already makes Ali Brightwell a recruit that Panther fans should follow closely over the next year.