PITTSBURGH — Pitt welcomed a five-player early enrollee class to the university’s Duratz Athletic Complex on the South Side Friday. It’s one of the larger early classes in recent memory for the program and it might the most impactful.
The biggest catch in head coach Pat Narduzzi’s haul is transfer quarterback Max Browne, who will come from Southern California for his final collegiate season. Browne was originally rated as one of the top quarterbacks in the country coming out of the Seattle area, but lost his starting job at USC to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold after the first three games of the 2016 season. Browne is 6-foot-5 and looks and talks the part of the type of leader that Pitt was looking for to replace graduating starter Nate Peterman.
Browne had decided to transfer from USC pretty early in the season, getting his release to speak to other teams in October. But he hadn’t necessarily decided to enroll early at his new destination until after he visited Pitt mid-December.
It was during his visit that he made up his mind to not only attend Pitt, but to do so as quickly as possible, meaning a cross-country move and a new college schedule needed to be planned over the holidays. It’s made for a “whirlwind” month for Browne, who looks to finally settle in at Pitt.
“Just in the past 36 hours, I’ve figured out my school and my place to live,” Browne said Friday. “The past three months have been crazy. A lot of ups, a lot of downs. It’s good to finally be here.”
The big upside to all of that craziness is that Browne will now spend all winter and spring with his Pitt teammates. That means weightlifting, passing to receivers indoors, working with and learning from coaches and then the vital spring practices, where he will try to get a feel for the timing of his new receiving corps.
“It’s my last shot,” Browne said. “I’m all in. I know the routine as far as January, February and then rolling into March as far as spring ball. I’m going to work, going to prepare, learn the offense like the back of my hand and be ready to go.”
STILL NO OC
While Browne was deciding whether or not to make the jump to the Panthers, offensive coordinator Matt Canada was on his way out the door, departing for Louisiana State following Pitt’s Pinstripe Bowl loss to Northwestern.
Quarterbacks and offensive coordinators spend a lot of time working with one another throughout the year and it’s a rare occurrence for one to be successful and not the other. I asked Browne if he had any trepidation about committing to Pitt with such a crucial position still unfilled.
NOT A HAPPY ENDING
As with most transfer, Browne’s tenure at USC didn’t end the way he’d have liked it to, but it was especially tough to see Darnold and his former teammates have so much success, with a 10-3 season culminated by a dramatic 52-49 victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
“It’s not what I envisioned,” he admitted. “I’m happy for my guys but I’m more happy to be here, lead this program and get things rolling.”
But Browne said the experience he gained from being benched and having to watch made him better in the long run.
“They’ll serve me well at Pitt and for the rest of my life,” Browne said. “I learned a lot as far as how to persevere through and I’m excited for this opportunity.”
START OF A TREND
Peterman was also a transfer that did well at Pitt, having come over from Tennessee with two years of eligibility in 2015. His success, even under two different offensive coordinators, was one of the reasons Browne felt comfortable at Pitt.
“The success he had under Coach Canada and Coach Narduzzi was something that was attractive to me as far as a quarterback putting up number and an offense putting up stats,” Browne said. “All of that together was a great factor for me.”
One of the things that Peterman had to hurdle in his time at Pitt was gaining the trust and respect of players that had been on campus far longer than he had been. Browne understands he has a similar challenge and a simple solution: just be himself.
“It’s not going to be the easiest thing, obviously, you have some experienced guys on the offense,” he said. “But if I just go out there and be myself, I feel like I’ll fall into a leadership roll — or not. Whatever it is, if it’s helping the team win, that’s what I’m comfortable doing.”
Browne said that he had been given no guarantees about playing time other than being given the opportunity to start. In order to do so, Browne will have to hold off a four-way challenge from redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci who finished the Pinstripe Bowl, redshirt freshman Thomas MacVittie and fellow early enrollee Kenny Pickett, a true freshman from Ocean Township, N.J.
All of those players have talent, but Browne is confident he’ll be able to win the job and realize his potential with the Panthers.
“I’m going to have to compete to win the job,” Browne said. “If I don’t play well, I’m not going to win the job. I’ve learned that first hand.”