It’s been a long road for Kedon Slovis since he opened the 2021 season as USC’s starting quarterback. Juggling sky-high preseason expectations, a fired head coach and a top-ranked backup nipping at his heels, his junior dissolved into injuries and disappointment.
As Lincoln Riley arrived in SoCal in November, the writing was on the wall for Slovis. He entered the portal and just over a week later, he committed to Pitt.
In speaking to the Pittsburgh media for the first time Wednesday at Pitt’s South Side facility, Slovis expressed not only his excitement in finally being at Pitt but the opportunity he’s been taken to work in Pitt’s system.
“I think the main thing was you saw the talent last year,” Slovis said. “Everyone had a great year, Kenny had a great year, and from afar, kind of assumed that it was an older team and everyone would be leaving. And that was me not knowing anything. When I got that call, I kinda realized everyone was staying except for Kenny. Looking at that opportunity, it was kind of a no-brainer, it jumped to the top of my list immediately.”
In coming to Pitt, he’ll be tasked with continuing Pitt’s explosive offense from 2021. He’ll have a lot of help, but there are some very large shoes to fill. While Slovis replaced a former five-star at USC in J.T. Daniels, his next act will be a tad bit harder. He’ll have to replace a Heisman finalist that led Pitt to its best season in four decades. And he made sure to reiterate that he’s not Kenny Pickett.
“It’s a great honor, obviously, a lot to live up to, but I’m my own player,” Slovis said. “I play my own game. I’m not Kenny Pickett. At the end of the day, this is a different team than it was last year and hopefully looking to build off of what he accomplished last year. And what that team last year accomplished.”
Pickett’s success (4,317 yards and 49 total touchdowns) directly correlated with Pitt’s success (11-2 regular season and the first ACC championship in program history) in 2021, and despite Pickett’s departure for the NFL, it’s like Slovis said, there’s a lot of talent returning to Pitt.
Pitt’s wide receiving corps is loaded with talent, and Jordan Addison is a different sort of playmaker. The Biletnikoff winner, as the best wide receiver in college football in 2021, developed a special bond with Pickett — often helping Pickett just as much as Pickett helped him. In just a short time in Pittsburgh, Slovis has already seen just why that is.
“It’s really special,” Slovis said. “Jordan’s a helluva player. And beyond that — I knew what Jordan kind of brought to the table, I saw the stuff on tape and I saw everyone else’s. Really just getting to work with the other guys has shown me just how much more talented they were than it showed on TV.”
The talent that Addison displays is obvious, but the room is far more than a one-man show. Despite the loss of a potential pro in Taysir Mack, guys like Jared Wayne, Jaylon Barden and Jaden Bradley have already stood out for Slovis. And the addition of a freshman All-American in Konata Mumpfield from Akron doesn’t hurt either.
“Jordan’s great, even better than I thought, better than advertised,” Slovis said. “Konata just got in, and he’s been playing really well, throwing really well with him. A guy like Jared is playing — really impressed me in person, more so than I realized. Same with Jaylon, same with Jaden. There’s more guys I’m forgetting to mention. Gavin (Bartholomew) is another guy.”
And it’s not just a strong wide receivers room that excited Slovis either. Pitt’s offense received a boost when the entire offensive line decided to run it back one more time in 2022, and Pitt’s three-headed rushing attack will be an added focus.
“(The offensive line returning is) really one of the big reasons why I’m here,” Slovis said. “Again, we have a lot of guys coming back, and those guys up front are a big reason. Watching the tape, they do a really good job. It takes a team, football’s the ultimate team sports, and without that supporting cast it’s really hard to have success.”
While Slovis committed to Pitt during the period between former offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s exit and Frank Cignetti Jr.’s arrival, the relationship he forged with Narduzzi helped to bridge the gap — and with so few “real ones” in college football anymore, Slovis said Narduzzi is definitely one of them.
“It was a little different situation because we didn’t have the offensive coordinator at the time, but knowing that the head coach was recruiting you and wanted you was great and special,” Slovis said. “We talked a lot and it felt like I was in the portal for a while, but I was really only in the portal for like five days before I committed, but we had a lot of different conversations and it really allowed me to build trust and get to know him a lot.”
One of the connections that Slovis built with Narduzzi came from a phone call with Pickett. The two had met during the Manning Camp, and Narduzzi told him to give Pickett a call to get a better opinion on Narduzzi himself. It wasn’t a crazy call, but the pair just talked a bit about Narduzzi, the wide receivers room and the entire offensive line coming back.
And like Pickett, Slovis entered the program without a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator. Narduzzi kept Slovis and Nick Patti in the loop when it came to the search for the eventual guy, and now that it’s Cignetti, the pair is already working on the 2022 offense.
“We met a few times before we even met as a unit, just talking over what I’m used to, what I like, what I’m comfortable with, what our offense at USC ran, what I ran in high school playing for Kurt, and then talking about the stuff they ran and talking watching cut-ups — NFL cut-ups — and really oriented to the west coast offense and recently just building the drop, doing all the fundamental things that are really foundational to the offense,” Slovis said.
When it comes to Slovis’s eventual impact in leading Pitt’s offense, while he’s not Pickett, he has his own set of skills that have already led to success at college football’s highest level — a first-team All-Pac-12 nod doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere.
“Each quarterback has their own unique skill set,” Slovis said. “I think there’s a lot of things I do well, a lot of things I’m looking to do better at. There’s things I have confidence in; I have confidence in my arm, confidence in my accuracy, my pocket movement, but you still have to learn the offense and get to know where the ball needs to go.”
Slovis, Cignetti and Pitt’s offense is all in Pittsburgh now, and while it made sense, the only reservation that Slovis had originally was packing up and moving all the way across the country. As a Scottsdale, Az. native, he’s lived his entire life out west.
“It’s a big jump for sure,” Slovis said. “That was probably the only reservation I had in transferring was, just, it’s a big, a big jump. You’re leaving all your friends and family. I don’t think I know many people out here before I moved.”
It’s been a near-seamless transition so far, as Slovis said everyone has been so welcoming, and he does have a familiar name already in Pittsburgh. Slovis is in a relationship with Pitt women’s soccer player Kate McKay, and in visiting her at Pitt, he already had somewhat of a connection with the city.
“People have kind of asked me, is that the reason why you’re going there and all this stuff, and I guess the best explanation I guess, like I said the situation is great, but being a kid from Scottsdale, there are a lot of schools east of the Mississippi that recruited me that I’ve never been to visit,” Slovis said. “Pitt being the one school that I have been, I’ve been to visit here quite a few times, so when Pitt picked up the phone, I felt a lot more comfortable — especially during the dead period, knowing you’re not going to be able to take a visit — just knowing what it’s like.”
In looking at schools like Notre Dame and Auburn, the lack of familiarity was a hindrance in the process. Pitt wound up being the perfect fit and perfect situation for Slovis.