Calijah Kancey still remembers meeting Charlie Partridge for the first time.
Partridge, Pitt’s then-newly hired defensive line coach following two seasons as the head coach of FAU, recruited Florida heavily in 2019 — like every season. Kancey wasn’t a highly-rated recruit in the class, outside the Top-100 in Florida alone, according to 247Sports, but Partridge saw potential.
Partridge made a trip down to Miami in the fall of 2017 before Kancey’s recruiting process picked up, and he walked into the locker room at Northwestern High School looking for Kancey. Kancey still remembers exactly what he said.
“(Partridge) said, ‘I don’t like your film, I love your film.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, okay, I like this coach.’ He’s been the same ever since,” Kancey said. “He’s always helping me be a great player on the field and a great person off the field.”
That initial interaction laid the foundation for an All-ACC, All-American bond on the field, but Kancey felt like he was on the team right from the beginning. With how often the pair talked, he certainly felt like he was already on the team.
It helped that once Kancey got to campus, just over a year after he committed, that recruiting bond, the official visits, glitz and glam, dissolved into player and coach. Kancey said that’s something that young players have to learn, that it’s business once they step on campus, but that was never a problem with Partridge. Kancey arrived on campus ready to work.
Kancey played 10 games as a true freshman, waiting his turn behind a dominant defensive line that featured Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver, and started the last four games of the season.
He broke out with a 33 tackles (23 solo), 13 tackle for loss, seven sack season from the heart of Pitt’s defense last season, establishing himself as one of the best players in college football. There’s an increased expectation this season, comparisons to a certain undersized dynamo out of Pitt, but Partridge has seen how Kancey has approached every day in the same way he has since first stepping foot on campus.
“The reality is (Kancey’s) handling everything in a very mature, very adult way, and it’s hard because every one of those little (award) graphics that come and says what watch list he’s on, I’m promoting it, I’m putting it out there, it helps in recruiting, it matters,” Partridge said earlier in August. “There’s this balance of yes, we’re promoting you, we want to promote you and have a chance to get these things, but at the same time, none of that matters if you don’t come in and work every single day.
“So, it’s managing the pressure, it’s managing the distractions that we were talking about before and keeping the main thing, the main thing. Which is, ‘Calijah, how did you get here?’ You were blessed with a ton of talent; you came in and you worked. And you’re really selfless in how you approach things.”
Throughout the entire relationship, it’s been Partridge that has helped keep Kancey grounded. He’s always finding ways for Kancey to perfect his craft, to get 3% better every day.
“Say, for example, if I get a sack, (Partridge’s) always willing to help me and coach me up on how I could’ve done something better,” Kancey said earlier in August. “How I could’ve been better, shedded this guy better, gotten there quicker.”
It can be hard to find a perfect fit between player and coach at the college level, but it’s been destined since the first meeting in the Northwestern High School locker room. Kancey and Partridge embody that player-coach bond.