If redshirt freshman wide receiver Che Nwabuko tells you he’s the fastest player on Pitt’s football team, he’s probably right.
There is a big difference between track speed and football speed, but Nwabuko is trying to show that he has both. He didn’t see the field during his freshman season at Pitt, but he certainly made an impact on the — indoor — track.
At the 2023 ACC Indoor Track & Field Championships, Nwabuko didn’t just show up. He competed. It wasn’t his best performance in the 60-meter dash, but he qualified for the 200-meter finals — finishing seventh with a 21.44.
He is already firmly within the top five of 60-meter and 200-meter dashers in the program’s indoor history. He’s fast. And he knows it.
“You already know who it is,” Nwabuko said with a smile after Tuesday’s practice, immediately answering who the fastest player at camp was. “You come out to practice, you see me every day. But I’m not gonna lie, got some competitors out there like A.J. Woods, of course. I got (Marquis Williams) on the other side. Bub Means, number 0.”
It’s Nwabuko’s second summer at Pitt, having first arrived last summer as a true freshman, and he feels like he’s taking that next step now that he has some familiarity in the system. It’s already shown on the practice field this summer.
“Che had a great (deep play Sunday),” Narduzzi said before Monday’s practice. “It was kind of a short one, and he just took off and went. He has shown some really good things here this fall so far.”
Pitt held a practice Sunday, which was closed to the media, but by all accounts, the offense was racking up big plays through the air. Nwabuko’s gain wasn’t the result of a heave from Phil Jurkovec or Christian Veilleux but his own speed and agility.
“Just get the ball in my hands,” Nwabuko said, “let me do what I do with the ball and I’ll turn it up every time.”
2023 ACC Indoor Championships
• Che Nwabuko (Fr) | #CNtime
• 200m (prelims)
• Lane 5 (heat 1)
⏱️ 21.08 (indoor PR & 3rd in program history)
🗓️ Finals Saturday Feb. 25th, 1PM central
🟡🔵 #H2P | #ItsFunBeingFast 😎
— Chux Speed (@ChuxSpeed) February 24, 2023
Unlike last season, when he was just watching and learning every day in practice, there are actual openings in the wide receiving corps this season. And that opportunity isn’t just limited to receiver either, as he’s been working this offseason as a returner.
“He had a great offseason with the track team, did very well, and now we want to see that speed translate to football,” Tiquan Underwood said last week. “I feel like as a receiver and in special teams, he’ll have an opportunity to show us what he can do and have a chance to help the team.”
It would be very hard to unseat redshirt senior defensive back M.J. Devonshire as a punt returner, but his skill set is tailor-made for a kick returner. But he also isn’t just a gadget player in a 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame. He’s learning how to be a wide receiver who can take a jet sweep around the corner.
“Coming from high school, I wasn’t really much of a receiver, I didn’t have a straight-armed receiver coach to tell me all the small things,” Nwabuko said. “So, coach Underwood has really taught me the smaller things of being a receiver, being more clean in my routes and releases. I’m building off everything he’s been teaching me.”
Like any freshman entering a new system, Nwabuko said he worked through a lot last season. He soaked it all in, watched and listened and learned. And he wants to take everything he’s learned and apply it to his game this season.
Mumpfield and Means — and likely Daejon Reynolds — headline the starting unit this season. It’s an older, more experienced trio that has played all around the college football landscape. And Underwood is looking for the young receivers to step up behind — and alongside — them. The No. 4 and 5 receiver spots are wide open.
The Fab Four (like that?) have dominated the headlines this offseason, and for good reason, of course, but don’t count out Nwabuko either. He’s spent just over a year in the system. And as he said himself, he’s still learning how to be a wide receiver.
Nwabuko has worked with Jurkovec and Veilleux and Nate Yarnell alongside his fellow receivers this offseason, on and off the field, and he’s seen how it’s helped build chemistry in the room. It’s always helpful to really know your quarterback. And it’s helpful for a quarterback to have a receiver who can rip off a 40-yard play on a screen.
But also with that blazing speed, he tells every quarterback he plays with to just chuck it deep. “I tell ’em, put it out there, let me go get it,'” Nwabuko said. And that’s just because of the incendiary speed he possesses. It’s hot. You gotta put the fire extinguishers on his feet.
After all, he did run a 4.3 flat 40-yard dash at Pitt’s summer workouts.