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Pitt Becoming ‘Next Chance U’



PITTSBURGH — Transfers are more frequent than they have ever previously been in college football. Whether it is because of a lack of playing time or a desire for a change of scenery, players are transferring more often. While a transfer at times can be one team’s loss, it is almost certainly another team’s gain.

Pitt is no different, as they have turned into ‘Next Chance U’ for transfers to find new opportunities to contribute and showcase themselves. The Panthers signed three transfers last season that all played important roles on a division championship team.

“If we continue to have success like we have, taking guys and making them starters and giving them an opportunity,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Then I think it is a good thing for us.”

Former Kent State lineman Stefano Millin joined the Panthers as a grad transfer last season and started all 14 games at left tackle. Wide receiver Taysir Mack joined the team as well by way of Indiana and led the Panthers in receiving yards. Quarterback Jeff George Jr. came to Pitt after grad transferring to Michigan following three seasons at Illinois. George Jr. became the teams primary backup and played in three games in 2018.

Taylor Mack (11) in the Blue Gold game April 13, 2019 — David Hague/PSN

Pitt was active again heading into 2019, as the Panthers added three grad transfers that should make an immediate impact this season. Former Florida linebacker Kylan Johnson, former Rutgers tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart and former Michigan offensive lineman Nolan Ulizio all transferred to Pitt in the offseason.

Johnson will compete for starting linebacker spot, as the Panthers attempt to replace three starters at the position.

“When I came out in the spring, when I took my visit here, I noticed that the defense looked really good,” he said. “And, you know, they just need some help in certain areas. Like in the linebacker spot. You know, I just took a shot.”

With Pitt searching for production at tight end, Griffin-Stewart saw an opportunity to play and liked the new offensive scheme under new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.

“The addition of Coach Whipple, looking at what he did at UMass with Isabella, Breneman the last couple years, that was very attractive to me,” he said. “So I knew for sure, after my visit, that this was definitely a place that I would like to be.”

Courtesy of Nakia Griffin-Stewart

As Pitt attempts to replace four starters on the offensive line, Ulizio also saw a clear path to challenge for a spot.

“It’s definitely a big opportunity, like you said, replacing four guys,” Ulizio said. “It’s a big opportunity for me and the other linemen on the team right now. So replacing those four spots, young guys gotta step up and start contributing more, so it’s good for everyone.”

With the amount of grad transfers coming to Pitt in recent seasons, why are players choosing to come to Oakland? For Johnson, it was the coaching staff that attracted him to Pitt.

“I just wanted to be around a good coaching staff I could trust,” he said. “And great players, which I am.”

Griffin-Stewart cited the coaching staff’s persistence as a reason why he decided on Pitt, in addition to Whipple’s use of the tight end.

“Pitt was one of the first schools to reach out to me when my transfer was notified, through the transfer portal,” he said. “Coach Narduzzi, coach Salem and coach Whipple were very persistent in the recruiting process.”

Clearly Pitt’s coaches have made a positive impact for transfers in the past and will continue to in the future.

Similar to past years, Pitt will need transfers to make a significant impact on the field, as they attempt to defend their ACC Coastal division title.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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