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Honored, Blessed, Thankful: New Pitt Captains Aren’t Leading Alone



Pitt defensive lineman David Green.

All 18 of the Pitt seniors stood up one by one to introduce each other Friday afternoon in the ballroom of the Westin Hotel. Eli Kosanovich introduced Bub Means, Bub Means introduced Marquis Williams and it went all the way down the table until M.J. Devonshire — who sat at the far end of the very long table — introduced Kosanovich.

“I get the pleasure of actually introducing one of my brothers, blood couldn’t make us closer, a guy who is the definition of consistent,” Devonshire said. “A guy who’s been there for me, dragged me through algebra in high school, my right-hand man, Eli Kosanovich.”

Of the 18 seniors, there are sixth-year guys like David Green, Blake Zubovic and Jake Kradel. There are newcomers like Phil Jurkovec and Malcolm Epps. And everything in between.

But the feeling of camaraderie, the love that was felt in the room Friday, isn’t one that will soon be forgotten. 18 seniors of different backgrounds, experiences, cultures, whatever. But all of them, and the entire Pitt team voted three guys to be their captains this season. And they all sat in the room.

Pat Narduzzi, once all of the seniors were introduced, announced that Matt Goncalves, David Green and Shayne Simon will be the 2023 team captains. A fifth-year senior in Goncalves who almost left when it looked like playing time was coming his way after 2021, a sixth-year senior who waited his turn in a loaded defensive line room and a sixth year (second-year Notre Dame transfer) senior who feels fortunate to be in this position at all.

“I’m proud of all the seniors,” Narduzzi said at the Westin Friday. “As I told them the other day, there’s three captains, but there’s 18 leaders in our seniors leadership council. And you need all of them. You’re not gonna win a championship with just three seniors. Those guys were picked by their team, which is the most impressive, and they deserve it. They are vocal leaders, they’ll step up when things need to be done, and I think our team is in good hands with these three.”

Green, who has stepped up in a major way to lead Pitt this summer, was perhaps the easiest choice. He was hoping for the chance to have that ‘C’ emblazoned across his chest, but if he hadn’t been voted a captain by his peers, it wouldn’t have changed anything. A leader doesn’t need to be recognized to actually lead. But it is an honor.

“When I heard that, my heart dropped,” Green said at the Westin Friday. “I had so much emotion built up, I just didn’t know how to express it. I was just so thankful for my teammates really trusting in me to be able to lead the team and lead those guys to victory, to become better men each and every day. It’s really a blessing.”

Green carries on the tradition of former Central Catholic stars leading the way as captains at Pitt, guys like Damar Hamlin and Cal Adomitis recently and Dan Marino and Sal Sunseri, it’s just another reason to be grateful.

“It’s a blessing, it’s truly a blessing, especially coming from Pittsburgh and having the opportunity to really give back to the city, you can’t ask for anything better than that,” Green said.

Goncalves may not hail from Pittsburgh, a native son of Manorville, New York, but he’s as proud a Pitt man as there is. He wasn’t expecting to be named a captain, but as he put together what he thought was a terrific camp and helped lead his teammates into the 2023 season, it’s a great surprise.

It’s an honor — and certainly one that he said would not be possible without all of the teammates he’s played with and alongside over the years. It was that bond with his teammates — his boys — that made him want to stay when it looked like he wouldn’t be playing after the entire Pitt offensive line returned in 2022.

A year later, reflecting back on how far he’s been able to come in a city that he’s fallen in love with, it’s truly an honor.

“Coming from New York and not knowing what Pittsburgh is and being able to be named captain and lead this team means the world to me,” Goncalves said Friday at the Westin. “Being able to be etched in the University of Pittsburgh’s name forever is a huge honor and something I’m not gonna take for granted.”

Simon was even more surprised to be voted a captain. He didn’t expect it. At all.

“I’m an outsider,” Simon said Friday, using his fingers to make air quotes around the word outsider. “I transferred in here and there’s guys that have been here a long time, but it’s just this team, this unit and they brought me in and I just can’t thank them enough.

“It’s just a tremendous honor. The guys are great, they’ve brought me into this family and into this community since Day 1, and it’s just a blessing to fill these shoes, wear the ‘C’ on my chest and I’m proud to be able to do it.”

Simon adapted quickly upon arriving at Pitt, working his way up from a newcomer to the starting Money linebacker over the course of a couple of months last offseason. He started at Money all last season, breaking out as a key piece in Pitt’s defense, and he slid inside to Mike in the Sun Bowl — filling a new need with SirVocea Dennis departing for the NFL.

It’s been a whirlwind year and a half for Simon as he’s grown into Pitt’s system, thriving at Money and adapting very quickly to Mike, and his steadying presence this season will be key in truly playing as a connected defense. He’s gone from a quiet transfer to a vocal team captain quickly. And that only shows the trust and respect he’s earned from his coaches and teammates alike.

Simon admitted that he talks pretty quickly, so he tries not to talk too, too much, but he’s gotten comfortable using his voice to orchestrate the defense from that Mike spot. He’s grown into that voice over the last year, and he’s noticed it — as have his teammates.

Goncalves is someone who tries to lead by example, his growing maturity an area that Narduzzi pointed to as a strength, communicating effectively with his teammates in the moment, and whether it’s in the weight room, in the locker room or on the field, Goncalves just wants to be able to bring his teammates along beside him.

If you’re looking for a vocal leader, it’s Green. He’s not afraid to be loud. But he backs it up with his work in the weight room, his play on the field and his presence across all phases. If you need help, turn to Green. As one of the older guys in the room, he wants to supplement his lead-by-example approach with his ability to hold himself and his teammates to a standard vocally.

But of course, Pitt’s leadership isn’t exclusive to Green. Or Simon. Or Goncalves. Or any one single person on the team. It’s a collective. Pitt has a lot of leaders because leadership comes in many different shapes and sizes. And all of those leaders, as Narduzzi said, will be important in 2023.

“I want everybody to lead just as much because everybody’s a leader in some way,” Green said. “Maybe by vocal, maybe by example, you can always be a leader in some way.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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