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Gavin Bartholomew Still Has Another Gear to Reach as a Key Cog in Pitt’s Offense



Pitt tight end Gavin Bartholomew.

Gavin Bartholomew had been waiting for an offer from Pitt, but as he was then committed to Buffalo, he was content to move forward to the next level out of Blue Mountain High in Schuylkill Haven, Pa. without that coveted Pitt offer.

However, Tim Salem and Pitt finally extended an offer on Nov. 25, 2020, and less than a week later, Bartholomew flipped his commitment from Buffalo to Pitt. He put pen to paper and signed his NLI two and a half weeks later and enrolled early at Pitt a little over a month later. It was a rapid process.

It was also a dream, a dream he didn’t expect to come true, but as a spot in Pitt’s 2021 recruiting class opened up, Bartholomew was ready. It was kind of a precursor for his young Pitt career so far. He’s been ready for everything thrown his way.

As a 6-foot-5, 250-pound true freshman last season, Bartholomew stepped into a tandem role with Lucas Krull and contributed 326 yards and four touchdowns on 28 receptions — earning freshman All-American and All-ACC honorable mention recognition in the process.

With Krull to the NFL and Jordan Addison to USC, it opened two crucial targets for new Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis this season. With receivers like Jared Wayne, Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means and running backs like Israel Abanikanda, Rodney Hammond Jr. and Vincent Davis, Pitt isn’t lacking for talent, but Bartholomew is a special kind of talent.

Already a big, strong target out of high school, Bartholomew packed on 10 more pounds of muscle entering spring practices earlier this year. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Bartholomew is as well equipped to jump over a defender as he is running one over. In the opportunities he’s received this season, he’s flashed both, but those opportunities haven’t always been plentiful. Why?

“My wife says the same thing,” Salem laughed Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “No, I just like Gavin because somehow, some way, he may not have the best hands, he may not run the fastest, but he’s going to find a way to catch, go north and south, run somebody over, break some clavicles and get a first down.”

Bartholomew has only been targeted 11 times this season, tied with Jaden Bradley for fourth on the team, but he’s turned those 11 into 10 receptions for 176 yards (17.6 yards per reception) and two touchdowns. In just under a season and a half, he’s hauled in 38-of-40 targets for 502 yards (13.2 yards per reception) and six touchdowns.

When looking at Bartholomew’s sophomore season as a whole, his only missed action came in the second half of the Rhode Island game as he left with a shoulder injury, his opportunities have come mainly as an inline tight end.

With 125 passing down snaps this season, he’s run 103 routes (82.4%). As a whole, Bartholomew has lined up inline 94 times (75%), in the slot 19 times (15%) and out wide 12 times (10%).

Despite a limited opportunity to flex out wide or into the slot as a pass catcher, Bartholomew is 21st in receiving yards among tight ends in college football this season. This comes as he’s the only tight end in the Top 40 with 11 or fewer targets, and as his percentage of inline snaps is the highest among tight ends in the Top 30.

It hasn’t been a season in which Bartholomew has simply caught every ball thrown his way either; he’s made the most of every target, as Salem said. 93 of his 176 yards have come after the catch, courtesy of 57- and 29-yard touchdown receptions this season, and his 9.3 yards after catch per reception also ranks inside the Top 10 among tight ends in the country.

Bartholomew’s average depth of target has mushroomed from 1.8 yards last season to 8.7 yards this season, and it’s come as his efficiency (a 91% catch rate and no drops) has remained high. With a contested catch on two contested targets and five converted first downs, he’s been a quarterback’s best friend this season — evidenced by a perfect passer rating when targeted.

Bartholomew’s impressively underrated season has come as he’s dealt with a shoulder injury this season, his arm in a sling in the second half of the URI game two weeks ago, and it’s shown Salem just how tough his star tight end is and the dedication he puts forth on a weekly basis.

“He’s a tough kid, and obviously, he did not get to finish the Rhode Island game, and then had limited practice,” Salem said. “The first thing I asked him was, ‘Is it an owie or a boo-boo?’ And he kinda right away thought, well – as soon as they think, they’re okay.”

With a two-catch, 44-yard performance in his return against Georgia Tech in the rain, hauling in his two targets on the night, it was another strong performance for Bartholomew. His 29-yard touchdown reception gave Pitt the halftime lead, but that touchdown drive — the sixth of the game — was the first sustained offense on the day. It’s an area for the offense to improve heading into the game against Virginia Tech this week.

Pittsburgh Panthers tight end Gavin Bartholomew (86) Sept 10, 2022 David Hague/PSN

“Going into last week, we wanted to start fast and that was one thing we didn’t get to do,” Bartholomew said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I felt like late in the game we did, but this week, we’re really trying to work on that, so we start out hot.

“I think it was coach Duzz who said on Sunday Georgia Tech – they woke up a beast. They’re gonna see a ticked-off team ready to go.”

Bartholomew has clearly made an impact as a pass catcher, but Salem felt like his blocking — the blocking from the tight ends as a whole — has also improved as the season has entered the second month.

“We have run the ball as you’ve seen more than one time per game, and we’ve done an above-average job,” Salem said. “Made some nice blocks on the backside to spring some Izzy cutbacks to go down to the end zone.”

With what Salem calls a 99.9% bill of health, Bartholomew is ready for the stretch run of ACC play. He’s also ready for a larger role in the offense. The Tennessee game was the only game this season where Bartholomew has received more than two targets, and he turned in a season-high five catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Salem said that whether Bartholomew catches one pass or 10, he’s a player who will make the most of his opportunities. That has certainly been the case so far this season. Salem sees a player who loves to go out and play football, no matter what he’s doing on the football field — he also sees a player whose excitement is visible in the lead-up to getting out on the football field.

“Probably my favorite part about Gavin is watching him on game day just get nervous,” Salem said. “From the morning, all the way ’til game time. Feet shake, hands shake, you just know he’s getting ready. You just feel his nervousness, but it’s not nervousness, it’s just like, ‘Let’s get this thing going.’”

Bartholomew himself said he is a little bit nervous, there are always some pregame jitters, but once the team runs out of the tunnel right before the game, the anxiety and jitters melt away. One as he lines up for the first offensive snap, the roar of the crowd and the pop of pads as contact is made, he’s locked in.

Bartholomew has got it going offensively this season, and he’s well-equipped — and well deserving — of even more.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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1 year ago

Why does it take an upset to “wake up a beast”? Sounds like a lack of preparation for 4 weeks.

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