Pitt’s cornerbacks are asked to do more than perhaps any other position on the team. In Pat Narduzzi’s defensive system, cornerbacks are left on an island. It’s not a situation that every corner wants to find himself in, but Ryland Gandy isn’t like every corner.
Gandy, a 6-foot-0, 170-pound cornerback from Buford High School in Georgia, played a similar defense while at Buford to a high degree of success — helping the Wolves to a 14-1 season capped by a GHSA Class-6A championship in 2021. In transitioning from Buford’s defense to Pitt’s, he feels like he’s built for the job.
“It’s kinda like the same at my high school, Buford High School in Georgia, it was kinda the same system where most of the time I’m most likely to be man-to-man … so this type of system, it did fit me,” Gandy said Wednesday at Pitt’s South Side facility.
If a cornerback is beat in Pitt’s defensive system, it usually results in a touchdown. Left on that island, it’s either win the matchup or let the receiver score downfield, so it takes a corner with a short memory and strong coverage skills to even want to enter the system. As the last line of the defense, Gandy is keenly aware of it.
“That’s it,” Gandy said regarding being on that island. “That’s pretty much how it was for me in high school. I was always on the other team’s sideline all game, so it’s nothing new to me.”
While it takes a certain type of talent to recognize and acknowledge the responsibility that comes with Pitt’s system, the actual skill in filling the role is a whole different story. In Gandy’s own experience, it’s about not overstepping the bounds of the position and letting the defensive game flow naturally.
“Really, just don’t think about it,” Gandy said. “Just play the game like you always know how to play the game. You don’t want to ever put too much pressure on yourself to go out here and make this play and make that play. Just let the game come to you naturally.”
In letting the game come naturally, Gandy is now letting college come to him. And he’s not sitting back. He’s adjusting to not only the speed of college football but the rigors of college academics and the challenge of managing time of on- and off-the-field.
“It’s definitely different from high school football, the speed of the game, the terminology, everything that we do,” Gandy said. “There’s a lot of attention to everything you do from the way you dress, the drills, being behind the white line when we’re lining up. It’s a huge transition.”
And in transitioning from the high school level, Gandy is also learning that the coaches he met during the recruiting process are now a bit tougher to deal with in practice.
“It’s definitely different,” Gandy said. “That’s something that people told me a lot about. When they’re recruiting you, they’re nice, but once you’re actually here, it’s a little bit different. It’s definitely different. You definitely see the difference.”
However, with his first spring ball in three or four seasons, Gandy is just excited to be taking the field in the hopes of showcasing just the skills that Pitt pursued in the recruiting process. Of course, Gandy wasn’t able to take part in spring ball at Buford because he was a track star, and that’ll only help his game at Pitt.
As a mid-distance sprinter at Buford, competing mainly in the 400-meter dash, Gandy holds a blend of speed and endurance — having made the finals in the Georgia track & field state championships. That quick-twitch speed is what will allow him to excel in Pitt’s system.
“With my track speed, going into football, transitioning to football is kind of more like me being twitchy,” Gandy said. “Because that’s the issue as a corner; you want to be twitchy as a corner, you want to be fast. That’s something that my high school coaches always emphasized with me to get better and get more speed.”
While Gandy feels like he’s a great fit for Pitt’s current defensive system, he feels like he could make an impact in man-to-man or zone coverages. All that matters in his mind is knowing he has a role to play and jumping in to physically fill that job.
Gandy isn’t an exceptionally big cornerback at 6-foot-0, but he bases his coverage off sizing up the type of wide receiver he’s up against in coverage.
“For me, it always depends on the type of receiver I’m going against,” Gandy said. “Whether it’s a really fast receiver or a physical receiver, for me, most of the time, I want to focus on my technique of how I want to guard the receiver then I’ll incorporate how my speed is going to play into that.”
Despite the loss of a veteran cornerback like Damarri Mathis to the NFL, Gandy said guys like Marquis Williams, A.J. Woods, Rashad Battle have helped him adapt to the next level. In learning from Pitt’s veterans, Gandy said he’s already grown as a player.
At the end of the day, Gandy values both his Pitt education and the ability to work his way up through Pitt’s defense to earn a starting spot. And on his official visit, he was saw first-hand how the two chances go hand-in-hand, and he hasn’t looked back.
“I remember on my official visit, we went to a restaurant near the cathedral, and they didn’t have to do this, but I ended up meeting one of the professors that’s gonna be in my major,” Gandy said. “I’m going to major in communications. To me, that was just special because they didn’t have to do that. The professors, the coaches, they didn’t have to think about doing that, and it just really shows that school here comes first before football. And football-wise, I really felt like I had a chance to learn the system, and as time goes on, play.”