First year Pitt tight end Gavin Bartholomew looks to revamp a position that has been a black hole for the Panthers for years.
Tight ends coach Tim Salem joined the coaching staff in 2015, but the position has been a black mark on the program for much of that period.
Florida transfer Lucas Krull joined the Panthers in 2020 and was supposed to be the answer to a lengthy dry spell at the position, but only managed one catch for six yards before missing the rest of the season with injury. His replacement, junior college transfer Daniel Moraga caught four passes the rest of the season. Redshirt freshman Kyi Wright grabbed three.
In 2019, it was Rutgers and Arkansas transfers Nakia Griffin-Stewart and Will Gragg that hoped to fill the void, but neither had more than 200 receiving yards. In 2018, Gragg and Jim Medure caught a combined eight passes. The year before, another Rutgers transfer, Matt Flanagan, had 160 yards and UCLA transfer Chris Clark 122.
It has not been since Scott Orndoff had 35 catches for 579 yards in 2016 that Pitt has had any real success at the tight end position. He’s also the last home-grown Pitt tight end to be a permanent starter, with a series of transfers and time shares in the interim. In an era of game-breaking tight ends like O.J. Howard and Kyle Pitts, the Panthers need more from the position group.
So while Krull is returning for the 2021 season and should be expected to once again start, the Panthers are rebuilding the rest of the tight end room the old-fashioned way, with a couple of true freshmen in Bartholomew and Jake Renda to go with Wright and give the Panthers a trio of prospective homegrown tight ends to replace Krull when his eligibility runs out for the 2022 season.
Bartholomew, a 6-foot-5, 248 pound three-star recruit out of Blue Mountain High School in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, fits the bill of a modern tight end, able to split out wide and create a mismatch.
His size and speed could be a boon for a Panthers team loaded with offensive weaponry. He was a two-way player in high school, taking snaps at tight end, quarterback and defensive end. That versatility could help him as he focuses on one position.
“Being able to see, like from a quarterback’s perspective, where you’ve gotta be just running routes and everything, reading the defense,” Bartholomew said.
Because he didn’t have an offer from Pitt, Bartholomew originally committed to the University of Buffalo, but he kept his eyes firmly set on the Panthers. When a spot opened up, Bartholomew seized the opportunity, flipping his commitment to Pitt a few weeks before Signing Day.
Bartholomew maintained a close relationship with Coach Salem throughout the recruiting process.
“[Salem is] definitely very exciting, [he] keeps you on the edge of your seat during film sessions,” Bartholomew said. “It just makes it… fun to learn.”
That relationship, as well as his recruiting visit, helped him decide on the Panthers.
“I knew what Pitt was like… it felt right, right away. I knew this was a place I really wanted to be,” Bartholomew said.
Despite his Pennsylvania upbringing and his love for Pitt, it wasn’t always this way.
“[Growing up,] I was more of [a] Penn State fan,” Bartholomew said.