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Pitt in the Pros

Local Pitt and WPIAL Stars in the NFL Playoffs This Season



The WPIAL has been a breeding ground for Pitt’s NFL talent in recent seasons, with quite a few notable names rising from the western Pennsylvania high school ranks to play for Pitt and earn a chance at the NFL.

With Wild Card (long) Weekend finally arriving Saturday afternoon, let’s take a look at the former WPIAL and/or Pitt stars who will be competing for a shot at the 2022 Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, California.

This will be a list of only the players who are on their respective teams’ active squads.

Saturday’s Slate

Las Vegas at Cincinnati Bengals — CIN WR Tyler Boyd, LV DT Quinton Jefferson, LV LB Nick Kwiatkoski, LV TE Nick Bowers

Tyler Boyd, from Clairton High School in Pittsburgh, enrolled at Pitt as one of the highest-ranked wide receiver recruits in program history.

Boyd has spent his entire career with the Bengals, racking up 4,571 yards and 24 touchdowns on 388 career catches, providing the Bengals with an ultra-reliable target who’s at least 50 passes for 600 yards in every season he’s been healthy.

Despite the emergence of star rookie Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, Boyd has been an unsung hero on the Bengals’ offense this season.

Quinton Jefferson emerged out of Woodland Hills High School in Pittsburgh, but he decided to attend Maryland out of high school.

The veteran defensive tackle started every game this season, his first with the Raiders, and he produced 47 tackles (17 solo), five tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, defended a pass and forced two fumbles.

Bethel Park’s Nick Kwiatkoski and Kittanning’s Nick Bowers both played sparingly for the Raiders this season — with Kwiatkoski added to the injury reserve.

With a home matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders at 4:30 on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals will look to continue one of the best seasons in recent memory.

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills — NE DE Chase Winovich, BUF DB Damar Hamlin, BUF DB Dane Jackson

It’s been a tough season for former Thomas Jefferson High School star Chase Winovich as he’s dealt with injury, but the edge rusher will look to make an impact on Sunday night for the Patriots.

Winovich attended Michigan after his time at Thomas Jefferson, and he turned his time as a Wolverine into a third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.

After back-to-back 5.5 sack seasons to begin his NFL career with the Patriots, Winovich missed time this season with injury and has found the field sparingly.

Bills’ defensive back tandem Dane Jackson and Damar Hamlin both jumped from WPIAL programs (Cornell High School and Pittsburgh Central Catholic, respectively) to successful careers at Pitt.

Hamlin has played sparingly as a rookie this season, recording two solo tackles and two passes defended as a reserve safety behind the duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. Jackson has jumped into Buffalo’s starting lineup down the stretch, starting the Bills’ final six games at cornerback.

The Patriots and Bills will square off at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo.

Sunday’s Slate

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — PHI S Avonte Maddox, PHI RB Miles Sanders, TB S Jordan Whitehead, TB TE Rob Gronkowski

Avonte Maddox, a Michigan native, enrolled at Pitt in 2014 — a year before Jordan Whitehead — and put together a strong collegiate career that ended with a fourth-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Whitehead, who played for WPIAL powerhouse Central Valley, jumped out of the gates as a stud freshman defensive back at Pitt and spent three seasons in Pittsburgh before being drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft — seven spots ahead of Maddox.

Maddox has spent the season as a spot starter for the Eagles, racking up 73 tackles (53 solo), five tackles for loss, a half-sack, an interception and nine passes defended. Whitehead fought through injury at times this season, but he still racked up 73 tackles (58 solo), five tackles for loss, two interceptions eight passes defended and a forced fumble.

As one of the highest-rated recruits in Pitt history, Whitehead has not only lived up to his college billing but developed into a crucial cog of the Buccaneers’ secondary.

Woodland Hills’ one-year star Rob Gronkowski also finished his high school career in the WPIAL, attending Arizona afterward. He developed into one of the best tight ends in league history, racking up 802 yards and six touchdowns on 55 catches this season.

Another Woodland Hills star, Miles Sanders leaped from Woody Hills to Penn State before being drafted by the Eagles in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

It’s been an injury-laden season for Sanders, who will returning from a two-week absence Sunday to play against the Bucs. He’s rushed for 754 yards on 137 carries this season.

The Eagles and Bucs will kick off at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys — SF DB K’Waun Williams, SF DL Kevin Givens, DAL DB Malik Hooker

K’Waun Williams was drafted out of Pitt in 2014 by the Cleveland Browns, but he’s spent the past five seasons with the 49ers.

Williams, originally from New Jersey, played in 14 games for the 49ers this season and made eight starts at nickelback. He’s recorded 52 tackles (40 solo), five tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and defended four passes.

New Castle’s Malik Hooker attended Ohio State out of high school before being drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He’s battled some injuries in his NFL career, but he played in 15 games for the Cowboys this season, racking up 44 tackles (30 solo), one tackle for loss, one interception and defended two passes.

Altoona’s Kevin Givens was a WPIAL athlete while he attended high school, even if Altoona isn’t anymore, and he stuck with local Penn State in college.

He was undrafted out of Penn State, but he’s spent the past three seasons as a reserve defensive lineman for the 49ers.

The 49ers and Cowboys will kick off at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs — LS Christian Kuntz

Chartiers Valley’s Christian Kuntz chose to remain in Pittsburgh for college, but he wound up at Duquesne and not Pitt.

After going undrafted out of Duquesne in 2017, Kuntz bounced around the NFL a bit and even found himself on the Dallas Renegades’ roster in the XFL before getting a second chance with the Steelers in 2020.

Kuntz has been Pittsburgh’s starting long snapper during the 2021 season.

The Steelers and Chiefs square off at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on Sunday night. Kick off is set for 8:15 p.m.

Monday’s Slate

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams — AZ RB James Connor, AZ P Andy Lee, LAR DT Aaron Donald

The 2013 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and the 2014 ACC Offensive Player of the Year James Conner will face off in the first ever Wild Card game on Monday night.

Donald, who put together one of the best defensive seasons in ACC history with Pitt in 2013, enrolled at Pitt after a high school career at Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh. After being selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Donald has turned into one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history.

With three Defensive Player of the Year awards and seven consecutive All-Pro honors, Donald is arguably the best player in the NFL. With 84 tackles (38 solo), 19 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and four passes defended, he’s a candidate for a fourth DPOY.

Conner, in his first season in Arizona after starting his career as a Steelers’ draft pick, was one of the biggest bargains in the NFL this season. He racked up over 1,000 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns for the Cardinals as an elite red zone running back.

An Erie native, Conner was a WPIAL athlete while enrolled at McDowell in high school before arriving at Pitt.

At age 39, Andy Lee is still among the most reliable punters in the league for the Cardinals. On 51 punts this season, Lee is averaging 49 yards per boot with a long of 62 yards.

He was drafted out of Pitt all the way back in 2004, selected by the 49ers in the sixth round.

The Rams and Cardinals will kick off at 8:15 p.m. on Sunday night at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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