Nick Patti didn’t watch college football growing up in New Jersey, but he distinctly remembers watching Kedon Slovis — as a true freshman at USC — step in once incumbent quarterback J.T. Daniels went down with an injury.
Patti wasn’t exactly a kid at that point, a redshirt freshman then, serving as Kenny Pickett’s backup, but he could definitely relate well. He was only a few weeks away from stepping into Pitt’s starting line against Delaware after all. It’s the dream that only those in his shoes could relate to.
“It’s funny, I got the chance to see a couple of (Slovis’s) games at USC, and I liked him a lot as a player,” Patti said. “I had a similar relationship because obviously J.T. Daniels got hurt and he went in, and I love to see that because I was behind Kenny at the time, and whenever someone gets hurt, obviously you feel bad for him, but when the guy comes in and does well, I have a relationship with that. It was cool to see, and he had a great year, and then I kinda didn’t see much of him.”
Slovis would go on to earn the starting spot at USC, excelling during the 2019 season, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020 and suffering through an injury-plagued 2021 season. It was a very trying junior season for Slovis, dealing with head coach Clay Helton being fired after just a couple of games, a high-ranked backup nipping at his heels and injuries that forced him to miss the last couple of the games.
He entered the transfer portal last December, shortly after Lincoln Riley was named as USC’s new head coach, and a week later, he committed to Pitt. It was just before the 2021 Peach Bowl, Patti’s first start since he was watching Slovis emerge at USC, funnily enough, but he wasn’t focused on any of that. He just wanted to do his best in the Peach Bowl.
“I love the chance to prove that I’m going to be that guy, and that just speaks to my confidence, but I had an idea that we were gonna bring someone in, Kenny leaving and us being ACC champions, we’re a hot spot for people,” Patti said. “Especially for quarterbacks with how well we threw the ball year in our offense.”
Slovis arrived at Pitt as the No. 1 target from the transfer portal, arriving alongside new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., and one of the very first people he heard from was Patti himself.
“Nick’s been awesome,” Slovis said. “I think when I committed, (Patti) sent me a text even before I committed, because coach told him, and he sent me a text right away. I met him on the first day. He’s been awesome, he’s an awesome guy to be around, and the room has been awesome to be around every day. Really all those guys in the room make it fun.”
With the arrival of a transfer quarterback, the one replacing Patti’s best friend of literal years, he hoped it would be someone who was friendly. Obviously, he wanted to have a good relationship with whoever it was, regardless of the on-field aspect.
“When (Slovis) transferred in, I got to know him, he’s an awesome guy,” Patti said. “It’s been fun being in the room with him. All my friends left in the quarterback room, Kenny, Davis (Beville) and Joey (Yellen) left, still have Eli (Kosanovich), Jake Frantl and Nate (Yarnell) in there, who we have a good relationship with, but he was more of the same.”
Patti has been at Pitt through the entirety of Pickett’s career, not really having the chance to rise to the top, but Slovis has experienced the dual-sided blade that is a quarterback’s room. He emerged from Daniels’ shadow as a true freshman to earn the starting spot and excel, but he also experienced the struggles that allowed his own backup to step into the spotlight and garner those whispers. It wasn’t always comfortable at USC, but that isn’t the case now.
“Obviously, the quarterback position, only one guy plays, and I’ve been in other situations where it’s definitely been awkward, but that’s not really the situation here,” Slovis said. “Especially going through competition, the guys have been awesome.”
In fact, through the half year that Slovis has been at Pitt, he’s adapted to the system but also adapted to the room itself. Beville and Yellen have left, but the duo of himself and Patti have been a constant. Only one can start, obviously, but that hasn’t stopped a good relationship from forming between Pitt’s two quarterbacks.
“We really just collaborate a lot,” Slovis said. “It’s a new offense for both of us, for all the guys in the room, so when something comes up, it’s nice to kind of talk it through with other guys. There’s a lot of conversation with the coaches, but there’s a lot of down time, so I think a lot of that stuff allows you to talk to the other guys and say, ‘Hey, man, what do you think about this? What did you see here when I ran this?’ And you find more times than not, you’re kinda seeing it the same way.”
In today’s age of college football, it’s uncommon for players of any position to find common ground in an open competition, let alone a quarterback battle. Patti could resent Slovis as the newcomer who hasn’t earned his rite of passage in the program, and Slovis could look down upon Patti as the lowly backup, but it’s clear that the pair has the utmost respect for the other.
“I have a lot of respect for him, we’ve talked, and he has a lot of respect for me,” Patti said. “We know that the best guy is going to play, so if he’s better than me in this camp, I have a lot of respect for him because I feel comfortable with the way I’m playing. I’m playing at a high level, and I know he is too.”
The quarterback competition, which has continued from the spring, is up in the air. Pat Narduzzi wants one of the two to emerge as such a strong option that there’s no doubt as to who serves as the starting quarterback in 2022. But Patti feels as though his style matches Slovis’s pretty well.
“I think we’re both confident in our ability to throw,” Patti said. “I think I run a little bit more than he does, but he’s still mobile. We have similar play styles.”