The Pitt football season got off to a rocky start back on Aug. 29, when running back Mychale Salahuddin decided to leave the team after just one season.
This was a big loss for a team that was in need of a featured running back after graduating both Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison. Many expected Salahuddin, who was the highest-rated recruit in Pitt’s Class of 2018, to compete with A.J. Davis for the role of Pitt’s featured back.
After suffering a knee injury towards the end of his freshman season, Salahuddin was close to being 100% healthy and big things were expected from him, but obviously that didn’t happen.
When announcing Salahuddin’s departure, Pat Narduzzi simply said, “Mutually, Pitt football and Mychale Salahuddin have decided to part ways. We wish Mychale the best of luck. We’ll help him wherever he wants to go.”
Since late August, Salahuddin has remained quiet and has been working out and training back in Washington DC. The next chapter of Salahuddin’s football career began on Monday, when his name was officially entered into college football’s transfer portal. In terms of his eligibility, if he decides to transfer to an FBS program, he will have to sit out a year and would have two years of eligibility remaining. If he instead goes the FCS route, he would be eligible to play next season and have three years of athletic eligibility.
Monday night, Salahuddin reached out to Pittsburgh Sports Now to talk about a number of topics, including what’s next for him, any regrets about leaving Pitt and what caused him to leave the Pitt program. Salahuddin was very clear about not having any bitterness about his time at Pitt and was very complimentary to Pitt assistants, including strength coach Dave Andrews who he called, “the best in the business.”
“Man, did I miss the game, that’s one thing that I can definitely say,” Salahuddin told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “That’s what hurt the most for me considering I’ve been playing football since I was five, six years old but I believe this breakoff was a blessing. During this time, I was able to get closer to my faith, I was able to spend more time with my family and my little sister as she’s growing up so taking the year off, I believe allowed me to see the other side of things.”
The other thing that his extended time off allowed Salahuddin to do was get completely healthy from that knee injury and he knows feels better than ever.
“During camp this year, I was around 90%, so now with all these months off, I’m like 150% better (laughing). I’m healthy and rested.”
So whatever school he decides to attend in 2020 will be getting a healthy, hungry, motivated player. The thing that Salahuddin and his family are trying to decide is whether he wants to move to another Power Five program, which means he wouldn’t play football for another season.
“Everyone in America has called my phone,” said Salahuddin. “It’s like having 70 D-1 offers again at seventeen years old. This time around, it has to be about making a smart business decision. I named the title of my last commitment post ‘Business Decision,’ but this one there’s truly no going back.
“Everything that I have to take into consideration has to be mastered and planned out. When I decide on my next school, the uniforms or how many times I touch the ball won’t matter with my next decision. It’s about how I’ll be in a program that will showcase my abilities so I can take care of my family. There’s no fun and games anymore, this is the real deal.”
If he decides to go the FCS route, North Dakota State and James Madison are teams that are high on Salahuddin’s radar.
Aside from looking ahead to his future, PSN also asked Salahuddin about Pitt and what caused him to leave after just one season. Prior to committing to Pitt, the four-star recruit had scholarship offers from Power Five programs such as Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Purdue, USC, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Wisconsin but choose the Panthers. Fast forward two years, does he have any regrets?
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“Me leaving Pittsburgh is never a regret because I look at it as something I got out of in order to better my future,” said Salahuddin. “I just felt that Pitt was not allowing me the opportunities to present myself on Saturdays that I know I can. I felt as though waiting it out would just be wasting time. Rather than just waiting and working and have more opportunities open up and present themselves to me.”
Coming in as a highly rated recruit and from what he showed the coaches in practice, Saladhuddin felt as though he deserved to play in more than just three games and receive just four carries as a freshman. He also felt that the situation in 2019 wasn’t going to be much better and decided it was time for a new football home.
“It’s all about opportunity,” he said. “My first game against North Carolina, I took my first carry in college football for almost 40 yards. [Ed. note: It was 23 yards.] There’s no way in America that the guy who did that should be on the bench the next play. There’s no way Nick Saban does that. If Jerry Jeudy does that on his first play, there’s no way he goes to the bench and doesn’t have another pass thrown his way.
“It’s the way that a coach looks at a true freshman and says to himself, ‘Wow, he can give us a spark, we have to get it to him again.’ I just didn’t see that and just felt as though, they’re thinking ‘OK, we saw what we have, let’s save him and wait.’ It shouldn’t be like that. It should be about winning football games.”
The morning that he planned on approaching Narduzzi about his feelings, Salahuddin says that any thoughts on sticking it out at Pitt were dashed after he expressed his feelings.
“Me being from D.C., I’ve always been a person that dealt with the hand that I’ve been dealt so I never asked or questioned a coach as if I was crying about my situation,” said Salahuddin. “I always had the mentality of just keep working to get out of it and do different things that the other running backs weren’t doing. Like come to the facility at 4:30 in the morning, like leave late and do stuff like that in order to try and stand out in the room but things weren’t changing and I was baffled by it.
“When I approached Coach Narduzzi, he didn’t try and talk me out of leaving, which was something I was shocked about. I didn’t say ‘Coach I’m gone,’ I was like it’s a lack of opportunities here and Coach it might be time for us to part ways and he said, ‘Yeah, we can just get your stuff worked out with compliance,’ as if he wanted it to happen.”
“I’ve never walked away from a team or ran from a situation. That’s not in my DNA and I don’t want people to think that’s who I am. It’s all just about opportunities and I should’ve been the featured back at Pitt.”
Both sides probably could’ve used each other this year, but that’s not what happened. Pitt will go into 2020 still looking for a featured back and Salahuddin will be looking for a new place to start the second chapter of his college football career.