When a few of Pitt’s defensive linemen told Deandre Jules that he was gaining a bit of weight, that it was slowing him down a bit on the field, he took it to heart. He wanted to make a change.
He made the decision to slim down this offseason, dedicating himself to eating leafy greens and fresh fruits.
“It was really the snacking,” Jules said Tuesday after practice. “I was on a bad snacking habit. The little cupcake minis, Pop-Tarts, popcorn, stuff like that. But I’ve been eating more greens, eating my fruits and vegetables. Just watching the snacks.”
Jules is a large human being at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, but he’s leaner, faster and more explosive than he’s ever been while at Pitt. Michael Stacchiotti and the strength and conditioning staff, and the team dietician Sina D’Amico, have helped out a lot. But it’s been Jules’ discipline that has allowed him to slim down and make an impact.
“I’ve been putting the work in in the offseason, getting ready for this week, this moment,” Jules said.
Jules is entering his fifth season in Pittsburgh, having redshirted in 2019 and spent the past three seasons in a depth role, and it’s taken time to crack the rotation. Charlie Partridge’s defensive line room is so deep that if Calijah Kancey had decided to come back to Pitt for another, Jules isn’t sure what he would’ve done.
“If Calijah were to have stayed, I would’ve considered leaving, but I talked to players, coaches, family and stuck it out,” Jules said. “I got family here, coaches are like my family, my girlfriend goes here. I just love the city.”
So, he stayed. He earned his opportunity after spending four seasons growing in the system. And Pat Narduzzi believes the sky is the limit for Jules going forward.
“If (Jules) has a great year, I could see that guy playing in the NFL,” Narduzzi said Monday. “He’s big, he’s physical, he’s got a good pass rush. He’s playing at a high level right now.
“It’s going to be a big year for him to show the world really what he’s got inside, but he’s just a big man. He looks like you’re supposed to look.”
Jules is big and strong, of course, but he’s quick and agile as a 300-pounder. And after a strong spring, Jules went to Narduzzi. He said if Narduzzi was up for it, he’d be down for a jersey change. 0 or 6. Narduzzi liked the idea of 0.
“I wanted a change,” Jules said. “I’ve been in 90 for four years now, I wanted a new start. 0 means zero excuses for me.”
Jules first emerged in Pitt’s 31-19 loss to Miami way back in 2020, racking up three tackles (two solo), 1.5 tackles for loss and a half sack as a redshirt freshman, but he hasn’t been able to sustain that level of production over the course of his career in Pittsburgh — not until the very end of the 2022 season, that is.
In wins over Miami (coincidentally) and UCLA to end the season, Jules recorded three tackle (two solo), 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack — stepping up into the rotation as Pitt’s veteran lineup opted out and prepared for the NFL Draft.
In 144 defensive snaps last season, including 42 against Miami and UCLA, Jules graded out as one of Pitt’s better tacklers. PFF credits him with seven run stops — to go along with three quarterback hurries, two sacks and a hurry. In 12 games, he recorded five tackles (three solo), 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
With 298 career defensive snaps under his belt, at least 75 in each of his past three seasons, he has experience in the defense to an extent. But Narduzzi, Partridge and Randy Bates have watched Jules emerge as a player who could legitimately make an impact this season. It’s just been continued growth.
“It really is, and sometimes it sounds like coach-speak, but he’s matured off the field and kinda saw this coming,” Partridge said earlier this summer. “That led into a good diet which led to the weight loss that you heard about. He doesn’t have distractions; he’s handling his schedule so much better and playing really good football. Minimal mental errors through the entire camp and just allowing his talents to rise up.
“I saw it happening really towards the end of last season, and it’s been a progression. He’s just gotten a little bit better each year. … Jules is looking like he’s a guy that has a chance to make an impact for us.”
Jules’ name is listed atop the initial two-deep depth chart this week, with Devin Danielson and David Green on one side of the interior and Jules and Tyler Bentley on the other, but Jules said that there aren’t actually any decisions that have been made about who will lineup across from the Wofford offensive line on Saturday.
“As of right now, nobody is starting,” Jules said. “We’re still fighting for that spot until Thursday. So, as of right now, nobody is starting. We’re still competing for that starting spot, all four of us.”
Jules likes his versatility going into the season though. He’s made noise as a pass rusher this summer, but he’s more than comfortable in run-stopping. And he can line up as a 1-technique, 3-technique and even a 5-technique. Wherever you need me, Jules said, I’ll be there. He’s not going to be Kancey out there, but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to be himself. But he’s certainly watched Kancey over the years.
“That definitely helped, seeing Calijah go first round,” Jules said. “It opened my eyes a lot. I just said to myself that it can be done, and I just wanted to lock in and focus on the main goal.”
He’s always thought of himself as an NFL guy but hearing that sort of sentiment from Narduzzi meant a lot, hearing all the praise he’s received from the coaching staff has meant a lot. And he’s just staying off social media, keeping his head down and locking into this season. The NFL is certainly a goal though.
“That’s my dream, I just gotta focus on Wofford first, go 1-0 every week, and hopefully that can happen for me in a year after we’ve won the national championship,” Jules said.