Blue Mountain High School in Schuylkill, Pa. isn’t known for producing high-caliber college athletes, but when Gavin Bartholomew arrived as an early enrollee last January, it was clear Pitt had found a diamond in the rough.
A three-star tight end out of Blue Mountain in 2021, rated as the 1,326th-ranked recruit in the cycle and the 68th-ranked tight end, according to 247Sports, Bartholomew joined a tight ends room led by veteran Lucas Krull. He was an impressive prospect right off the bat, and even other position groups took notice.
Kenny Pickett was complimentary of Bartholomew at the end of 2021’s spring practices, and even offensive linemen like Carter Warren saw how the early enrollee was outworking all of the other freshmen the in the weight room and on the practice field. If Bartholomew was in the room, it was unlikely that anyone was working hard than he was.
“As soon as he came in, I knew (Bartholomew) was going to be a leader,” Warren said Monday. “He works hard every day, he puts in the extra time in the film room and I knew from the start — as soon as I saw him playing — he was gonna be great.”
Gavin Bartholomew is a true freshman 😳pic.twitter.com/Cq578LvM5V
— Footballism™ (@FootbaIIism) November 28, 2021
Bartholomew hauled in 326 yards (fifth) and four touchdowns (fourth) on 28 receptions in 2021, serving as a one-two punch with Krull and a vital security blanket for Pickett across his entire freshman campaign.
It wasn’t as if Bartholomew picked it up over the last six or however many games of his freshman season. It wasn’t always a big performance, but it was consistently strong play when it mattered. And it led to freshman All-American honors as an untouted true freshman out of Blue Mountain.
Without Krull and tight ends coach Tim Salem, it wouldn’t have been possible, as Bartholomew said the pair taught him everything he knows, but his own diligence in building his body and perfecting his craft has led to a true breakout candidate as a sophomore.
Which, when looking at a freshman All-American, sounds crazy. But you’d have to have seen the growth Bartholomew has undergone even since the Peach Bowl in December.
Bartholomew, who is now listed at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, looks even bigger and stronger than his listed height and weight indicate. He said Monday at Pitt’s South Side facility that he’s up five pounds from his freshman playing size, but he’s gotten a lot stronger — and it’s not a coincidence.
“We were in (the weight room) pretty much every day besides Wednesday,” Bartholomew said Monday. “Rehabbing my body, getting better at recovery so I can get bigger and stronger. And offseason speed workouts.”
— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) November 6, 2021
And despite coming off an ACC championship and strong opening campaign as a true freshman, Bartholomew still looks at himself as a player hoping to earn playing time through strong performances in the weight room and during practice entering the 2022 season.
“It definitely helps with confidence,” Bartholomew said about coming as an established player. “Nothing changes though, just like last year, I’m still trying to get that starting spot. At least in my mindset, everyone’s fighting for a starting spot.”
In adjusting to new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr.’s offense, it’s gone well. With meetings and walkthroughs throughout the entire process, Salem has helped a lot. And Cignetti has a history of bolstering Pitt tight ends. Dorin Dickerson rose from an under-utilized tight end in Pitt’s system to an All-American and NFL Draft pick. Bartholomew has already seen the emphasis around tight ends in the system.
“Yeah, (Cignetti) made cut-ups of all the tight ends, NFL film, he did everything,” Bartholomew said. “I love it. Tight end-based offense, I think it’ll be amazing.”
Krull thrived in Pitt’s offense in 2021 (451 yards and six touchdowns on 38 receptions), and while Bartholomew is trying to follow in Krull’s footsteps as a leader in Pitt’s offense, his upside is even higher — much higher. The big, strong tight end has the size, strength and athleticism to secure his place as one of the top tight ends in the conference in 2022.
But Bartholomew has still seen the areas where he’s been at a deficit, and he’s recognized and vowed to improve his performance in those areas.
“For me personally, looking at my film, I’d say consistency when blocking,” Bartholomew said when looking at his weaknesses. “A lot of times I’ll do good and then I’ll ease off a bit. That’s one thing I think I need to work on all the time.”
As a rising sophomore in Pitt’s system, with one season under his belt, Bartholomew hasn’t exactly seen it all. He’s young, relatively inexperienced and yet… he’s primed for a superstar season. Despite the depth on Pitt’s offense, he’s big, strong and primed for a strong season. It’s tough to understate Bartholomew’s potential in Pitt’s offense going forward.
He’s said all the right things, working toward a championship and working his a** off and not stopping in pursuit of his goals, and he’ll have the chance to prove it even further this season. But Bartholomew is one of the most high-upside players on Pitt’s roster in 2022.
Bartholomew was a key target for Pickett in 2021, and while Pickett will be in the NFL in 2022, he still has very high hopes for Bartholomew at Pitt in 2022.
“(Pickett) texts everybody, told me I gotta step up and be a leader in the tight end room,” Bartholomew said. “You know, try and take over the offense.”