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Pitt Pro Day: The Perfect Chance to Show Stars Don’t Matter, Development Does



How many of Pitt’s 13 Pro Day participants were four- or five-star recruits in their respective classes? Not a single one.

In fact, of the 13 — plus former linebacker Johnny Petrishen — who will compete at Pitt’s Pro Day Wednesday, there were more two-stars than four-stars. But those sought-after star counts usually go out the window when the NFL comes calling.

The list of former Pitt stars in action Wednesday is:

  • running back Israel Abanikanda
  • wide receiver Jared Wayne
  • offensive lineman Carter Warren
  • offensive lineman Marcus Minor
  • offensive lineman Owen Drexel
  • offensive lineman Gabe Houy
  • defensive tackle Calijah Kancey
  • defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado
  • linebacker SirVocea Dennis
  • linebacker Tylar Wiltz
  • linebacker Johnny Petrishen
  • safety Brandon Hill
  • safety Erick Hallett

What’s a common theme among those who will be competing? None of them were “can’t-miss” prospects. Kancey didn’t even pick up an offer from his hometown school in Miami — or either in-state powerhouse Florida or Florida State.

A lot of three-star commits. Some were very nice three-stars. But it’s been the development over a handful of seasons in Pittsburgh, buying into Pat Narduzzi’s program, that’s made a difference. Of course, it’s been all of their own hard work on the football field that’s made a massive, biggest impact, too.

All-ACC, All-Americans, etc. Program record holders, national award winners, etc.

And as the young guys at Pitt file into the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex to watch Abanikanda run the 40-yard dash or Hill leap for an even higher vertical, it’s a learning moment for all of them.

“I think a lot of them will go out there and watch and see where these guys were four, five years ago, and I think as they watch it, I hope they look and say, ‘Okay, I think I can do the same thing.’ It’s all about development,” Narduzzi said Tuesday. “We’re going to develop our guys. I don’t care if they come in as a one-, four- or five-star, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to develop them.”

That development even over just the last two season has led to NFL picks (Kenny Pickett and Damarri Mathis in 2022 and Patrick Jones, Rashad Weaver, Jason Pinnock, Jaylen Twyman, Damar Hamlin and Jimmy Morrissey in 2021) and on-field success (an ACC championship and a two-season win total unseen since the 1980s).

“You look at the guys we’ve had around, whether they’re a fourth rounder or a first rounder, they’ve gone out and played,” Narduzzi said. “Look at last year with Damarri. He’s played all year out there in Denver. So, it comes down to draft day, and again, people make mistakes on draft day.”

The likes of Kancey, Baldonado and Hill made waves at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis earlier this month, praising strength and conditioning coach Michael Stacchiotti during the process, and the week-long event was also attended by Abanikanda, Warren and Dennis. They all just wanted to improve their draft stock.

And while the NFL Combine was a big opportunity, Pro Day — with everyone back — is the last chance to make an impact.

“I saw Owen Drexel today,” Narduzzi said. “He’s just bench pressing. That’s all he’s doing. He wants to get that bench in. He’s not going to run, which is probably a good thing. I don’t know if I want to watch him run. I love you, Owen.”

Drexel, and fellow offensive linemen Minor and Drexel, may not be the biggest names, but it’s their development over the last few seasons that’s led to Narduzzi’s belief in his players. All of them. If you come in and listen, you will learn.

Narduzzi heard from someone Monday night who sat down with one of Pitt’s NFL hopefuls, he won’t say who that hopeful was, of course, and came away very impressed with their intellect. ‘That guy was so intelligent,’ he told Narduzzi.

It wasn’t about academics. It was about football. And Narduzzi attributed that to the coaches in the building, fostering a culture that allows his players to speak like coaches to actual coaches. And if anyone’s embodied that, it’s been Petrishen. He tested well last year, and he’s once again giving it a go.

“John is coming back,” Narduzzi confirmed. “He came back, and he had to have some NFL personnel — we’re not just going to open it up to someone five years ago who wants to come back and run. It’s not what we do. But if NFL personnel says that want to see him run then we’ll do what the NFL would like us to do.”

Petrishen, Agent 0, is back for one more chance to show not just how he’s developed at Pitt but since the end of his collegiate career.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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