When Rodney Hammond Jr. converted a screen from Kenny Pickett into a 15-yard touchdown against Syracuse in 2021, Pickett broke Dan Marino’s 40-year-old Pitt record for the most touchdown passes in a season.
Pickett wasn’t exactly a stat padder against Syracuse, but he beat his conference rival all four times he started against them — throwing for 806 yards and nine touchdowns (to just three interceptions) on 70 percent completion. And he broke long-held records against the Orange, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Pickett was efficient, but most of all, he was a winner. And that’s exactly what former Syracuse wide receivers coach Bobby Acosta saw when he was recruiting Pickett out of Ocean Township High School in Oakhurst, New Jersey.
Acosta, who has developed into a top high school coach in the country, winning a national championship with IMG Academy in 2020, was Pickett’s primary recruiter out of high school at Syracuse in 2015. While Acosta saw the traits he valued, a born leader with elite intangibles, the rest of Syracuse’s staff didn’t.
“So, I recruited (Pickett),” Acosta told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “I had New Jersey, so that was going to be my big recruit. I put him to the table, and the staff said, ‘No.’ And now look at Pickett.”
Acosta, who wasn’t the quarterbacks coach at Syracuse, didn’t have the final say when it came to offering and recruiting quarterbacks. Tim Lester, who served as Syracuse’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in 2014-15, held other prospects on the board in higher regard — with Eric Dungey on the roster and Tommy DeVito as Syracuse’s top recruit in 2017. However, Acosta was adamant that Pickett was going to one day be selected as a first round pick in the NFL Draft. And he got the chance to tell Pickett such.
“(Pickett) was my top kid on my board, and I think — Tony Racioppi trains him, and Tony and I were college roommates, so the relationship is still there,” Acosta said. “The relationship is still there, and I actually shot him a text right before the draft congratulating him on a great career and that we made a mistake not picking him.”
Pickett, of course, developed into the only quarterback selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Pickett’s Heisman Trophy finalist season (earning All-American staus) revitalized Pitt in 2021, leading his squad to the first ACC championship in program history. In staying in Pittsburgh, drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pickett’s run of success has had a profound impact on Pittsburgh itself.