Christian Veilleux enjoyed his visit to Pitt the first time around, but he knew then it wasn’t a fit. Or rather, he didn’t think he’d be a fit in Pittsburgh.
He didn’t think Pitt was what he was looking for. And his recruiting process, as a four-star quarterback in the class of 2021, would eventually narrow down to Clemson, Duke, LSU, Penn State and Tennessee. He’d choose the Nittany Lions.
After two seasons at Penn State, with just one chance to showcase his talent in extended action, he entered the transfer portal in December. It was a quick process.
Veilleux, despite his growth at Penn State, wanted to give himself a fresh start.
He got his fresh start, but he wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with his new location either. He’d visited Pittsburgh before, liked his experience in the city and he immediately heard from Frank Cignetti Jr. upon entering the transfer portal.
Cignetti originally tried to recruit Veilleux to Boston College, but while the relationship didn’t result in a connection then, it helped the second time around. Cignetti was a big reason why Veilleux committed to Pitt in December.
“I felt a really good connection, really good vibe from (Cignetti) and coach Narduzzi and Jon DiBiaso,” Veilleux told PSN Wednesday. “I felt a lot of love from those guys. (Pitt has) a great business school, especially with their finance program, that’s what I want to study, I couldn’t do that at Penn State, and I can do it at Pitt.”
So, while he’s excited about his education, he’s also excited about the opportunity to play football with a ‘really good team’ at Pitt, too.
“I think this time around, the relationship with Narduzzi and Cignetti, being in the city of Pittsburgh as well, I think my perspective on Pitt really changed throughout this whole process,” Veilleux said. “I really learned to see the value in the school and the coaches and the program and the team. I felt like it would be a great fit for me.”
It was a great fit for Veilleux even though he made the daunting jump from Penn State to Pitt, crossing in-state lines in a rivalry that spans 83 games dating back to 1915. The prior history, which may have put off others, wasn’t a factor at all.
“I’m from Canada, so I don’t really get the whole rivalry thing,” Veilleux said. “For PA people, it’s a big thing. But for me, it didn’t even cross my mind a single time.”
It just happened that Pitt — amidst constant contact with the coaching staff and a great official visit — made sense. It felt like the right place to be in the end.
Veilleux arrives with one pseudo-start under his belt — taking over for a sick Sean Clifford against Rutgers. Clifford started the game 2-of-8, giving way to Veilleux just before the end of the first quarter, and he responded by leading the Nittany Lions to a 28-0 win.
In just over three quarters, he completed 14-of-25 pass attempts for 235 yards and three touchdowns — throwing touchdown passes to three different receivers, including his first collegiate touchdown to now-NFL star Jahan Dotson.
“(Veilleux’s) poised,” Dotson said after the win. “He was very poised. Never seemed to get rattled at any moment in the game. Stayed calm, made the right reads. He had a tremendous game. He was everything and more that you can ask for from a freshman quarterback.”
A lack of opportunity in Veilleux’s case, playing sparingly in five games over the last two seasons, simply delayed his arrival. He believes he’s the prototypical quarterback to run Cignetti’s pro-style offense.
“I think when you talk about physical traits, I think I’ve got everything he’s looking for,” Veilleux said. “And I also think my athleticism brings another element to the table which he can use to expand the playbook and expand his playcalling — utilize the quarterback more in the run game. Do more RPOs.”
Cignetti’s pro ball experience, a system that surrounds itself with professional quarterbacks that have succeeded, was certainly a draw. “I think that brings a lot of value to what he does because it can be done with the right quarterback,” Veilleux said.
And much like Cignetti has surrounded himself with good quarterbacks over the years, Veilleux feels like he’s surrounded himself with good teammates and good coaches at Pitt. There isn’t a doubt in his mind that it won’t be a seamless transition.
However, he’s also surrounded by a former Cignetti-coached quarterback in Boston College transfer Phil Jurkovec, too.
Veilleux hasn’t met Jurkovec, but he’s excited to once the pair are on campus together. He’s seen the work Jurkovec has put in throughout his college career, and he’s certainly excited to learn from the older, more experienced quarterback, and build that relationship. But it’s also still a competition.
“I mean, I didn’t come to Pitt to sit on the bench,” Veilleux said. He intends to start.
He also intends to follow the path laid out for Pitt quarterbacks left by Kenny Pickett.
“I wanna do what Kenny Pickett did, but do it even better and bigger,” Veilleux said. “He set a great path for Pitt quarterbacks and the success he’s had is what any other quarterback would want.
“So, that’s what I want to come in and bring to the table and I want to get people to fill those seats in Heinz Stadium or whatever it’s called now, I think the city of Pittsburgh loves Pitt football, so I want to bring that element back to the city.”
Veilleux sees a similar yet different style of player when comparing himself to Pickett. He doesn’t like to compare himself to other people generally, but he’s definitely going to sit down and watch the tape on how Pickett played the game — learn from the best.
Pickett, of course, is the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers now. So, he hasn’t gone far. If Veilleux wants to find Pickett, all he has to do is go to the other side of the South Side complex. And he certainly plans to do so.
“The fact that the Steelers are literally right next door and you can watch them practice, I look forward most to trying to ask those guys questions and using those guys as resources and getting my foot in the door with those guys,” Veilleux said.
Veilleux is a Pittsburgh quarterback now, and he intends to follow in the footsteps of Pickett, all the way to the NFL.