PITTSBURGH — Pitt has seven returning starters on both offense and defense for the upcoming 2020 campaign. Perhaps the two most important of the players coming back for another year in blue and gold are Pittsburgh kids, Demar Hamlin and Paris Ford. Both took over leadership roles last season in the backend of the Panthers’ top-3 ACC defense.
Last season, Ford led Pitt with 97 tackles and three interceptions. He finished second in pass breakups with 11 and forced three fumbles. Those numbers granted Ford a first-team All-ACC selection.
Hamlin wasn’t far off, as he ended the 2019 season with the second-most tackles on Pitt’s defense with 84 and third most pass breakups with ten while appearing in 12 games. He also notched 2.5 tackles for loss and one interception.
So, giving these two guys another year to work on their craft and build even more camaraderie together, will most likely benefit Pat Narduzzi’s upcoming squad by significant measures.
“It does a ton for us. At one point, it looked like we had neither one of them. We’d look totally different without either one of those guys out there. 3 (Hamlin) and 12 (Ford) back there Number one, they are like brothers, they play together, I’m watching, and it looks like we are clicking day one.”
Like several Pitt football news this offseason, Pitt was surely satisfied when they heard the news that their two safeties were coming back.
Hamlin was granted a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA in January and enters the 2020 season as a redshirt senior. Ford, – redshirt junior – wasn’t thrilled with his NFL draft projections and decided to come back and work toward having the best season of his career, alongside his ‘brother.’
Expectations for this upcoming season have been high since last season ended, and fast forward just a few months and those same expectations boosted even more. After Pitt’s first spring practice finished up on Monday, Narduzzi and his veteran safety duo weren’t shy when ranking themselves against the rest of the college football at the given position.
“It probably is the best tandem in the country right now,” Narduzzi said. “I can’t imagine having two better safeties in the country.”
Hamlin agreed with his coach.
“In the country? Yeah, no question,” he said. “You’re supposed to believe in yourself no matter what. Just off of what we put on the field last year and how we can build, just our chemistry going into another year, I don’t see nobody better than us.”
For much of the past year, the two safeties who line up next to each other on the field have also been living with each other. So, when they were weighing their options after last season, and ultimately decided to return to Pitt for another season, the two communicated nonstop.
“We’re both just trying to go as far as we can with this,” Ford said. “Our bond off the field makes our bond on the field way better.”
“Ever since high school, we’ve just been one, two,” Hamlin added. “You don’t see him without seeing me if we’re out in the public. We’re just building (on the field), off of that.”
Besides the individual goal of hopefully making it to the NFL next year, Hamlin and Ford are mainly focused on accomplishing a few more things, together, while wearing a Pitt uniform.
“Let’s win, let’s win,” Hamlin said. “That’s all we’re really worried about. Winning takes care of everything else.”