PITTSBURGH — Pitt has more than enough seniors to go around, as 19 of Pitt’s most experienced players were honored on Friday at the team’s annual kickoff luncheon, held this year at Heinz Field.
So when it came to narrowing down that list to four captains, it was a tough job. The team voted on Thursday, and when head coach Pat Narduzzi checked the tally, 11 different players had received at least one vote.
With only four spots to fill, Narduzzi elected to name just three captains this season, with the fourth and final spot rotating amongst the other candidates.
The top vote-getters? Linebacker Quintin Wirginis, offensive tackle Alex Bookser and strong safety Dennis Briggs.
All three captains are local players, with Wirginis graduating from Fox Chapel, Bookser from Mt. Lebanon and Briggs, a Wilkinsburg native, from Shady Side Academy. Briggs is the first two-year captain for Pitt since reigning NFL Defense Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who was also a Western Pennsylvania native
The players were not told ahead of time who had won the vote. All three thanked their families. Wirginis said he was “honored” and that he couldn’t look at his parents, for fear of crying.
Narduzzi said that he feels he has the best group of young men to lead his Pitt team since arriving on campus in 2015.
“I think from top to bottom, from the leadership part of it to the depth, it is the best senior class,” he said.
SPEAKING FROM THE HEART
The luncheon’s guest speaker was former Pitt defensive back and current ESPN analyst Louis Riddick. Briggs presented Riddick with a throwback Pitt helmet in appreciation.
Riddick spoke fervently about his experiences at Pitt in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and how the school had “fallen on hard times” in the interim.
The things that Riddick pointed out as signs of recovery? The return of the traditional Pitt look.
“The script’s back,” he said. “The colors are coming back. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Riddick also said that he will be attending the Pitt-Penn State game this year as part of his duties at ESPN and he can’t wait to see the rivalry again.
“That game’s personal,” he said. “That’s why we love college football. It’s supposed to be personal.”
Riddick closed with some advice for the current team: “Don’t take no shit from Penn State.”
Narduzzi’s send-off to the amassed crowd was a confident one:
“Next time we’ll see you is in Charlotte for the ACC championship game, because we’re going.”
He doubled down when speaking with the media afterwards.
“I guarantee you this — if these 19 seniors stick together, if they focus on what they’re supposed to be doing every day … an ACC championship is a goal we can get done here at Pitt,” he said.
ODDS AND ENDS
• Several of the school’s other coaches attended the luncheon, with men’s basketball coach Jeff Capel, women’s basketball coach Lance White, baseball coach Mike Bell, track and field coach Alonzo Webb, gymnastics coach Samantha Snider and tennis coach Alex Santos all taking part.
• Narduzzi’s Wednesday-night radio show will have a new home this year, moving to The Yard Gastropub in Market Square. It had formerly been at Cupka’s 2 in the South Side.