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Pitt Football Approaching Backyard Brawl With Excitement



Pitt cornerback M.J. Devonshire.

Donovan McMillon was still a Florida Gator when the Backyard Brawl resumed last season, but he remembers sitting in his dorm room in Gainesville, Florida filming M.J. Devonshire’s pick six as it happened.

McMillon may not have picked Pitt the first time around, but he came home when he left Florida over the offseason. He grew up in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, and he’s followed his hometown school from afar over the last couple of years. Now he’s going to be a part of the rivalry itself.

“It was crazy,” McMillon said after practice Tuesday. “I had a ‘one-year-ago-today’ (on Snapchat) that I showed M.J. because I was watching it, I filmed the video of him getting the pick six, and I was like, ‘woah,’ now that I’m not able to actually play in this game it’s an awesome experience.”

The ‘Pitt Six’ will go down as one of the greatest moments in the long, storied history of the Backyard Brawl, and Devonshire is still — over a year later — seeing just how many people he impacted with that one play.

“A lot of times people will look at me like I’m famous,” Devonshire said after practice Wednesday. “And I don’t realize it sometimes. I think I’m normal. That was a big play, people DM’d me and were like, ‘You made my year,’ so shoutout to them. I appreciate you letting me make your year.”

A record-setting crowd (70,622 people, the most at a sporting event in the history of Pittsburgh) was in attendance, and the press box shook from the uproar that was 70,000 people jumping to their feet and screaming as Devonshire capitalized on a drop from WVU wideout Bryce Ford-Wheaton and raced back through the WVU offense for a go-ahead touchdown just about three minutes in the fourth quarter.

“That was the biggest crowd I’ve seen,” Gavin Bartholomew said after practice Wednesday. “It was pretty exciting. Just seeing the crowd, the atmosphere, you knew it was gonna be a violent game, and it was. And it’s gonna be this year.”

Pitt, of course, would go on to win the first Backyard Brawl in over a decade, setting the foundation for a much-anticipated series that will continue (with an intermission in the mid-2020s) into the early 2030s.

And as the game shifts to Morgantown, West Virginia this season, with a 7:30 kickoff under the lights at Milan Puskar Stadium, there isn’t any level of anxiety. Only excitement.

“I told them after last, it’s another rivalry,” Devonshire said. “I’ll be walking around saying, ‘West Virginia doesn’t care. If you’re having a bad day, they don’t care. If you won or lost last week, they don’t care.’ They’re trying to beat you whether you won by 100 or lost by 100 the week before. That’s the type of team they are, and that’s the type of game they’re preparing to play. And you gotta be prepared for that.

“We’ve adapted to that, and we know that it is what it is, you gotta move on. The sun came up, and we got another opportunity to play football.”

It’s the first time that just about every single person at Pitt, barring Frank Cignetti Jr., will get to experience the Backyard Brawl in Morgantown.

Of course, there are a few Pitt players who have been to Morgantown on recruiting trips or whatever, as Pitt and WVU often battle for recruits in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Devonshire is one of those guys who has been to Morgantown. And he’s seen how raucous the atmosphere can be.

“Being there on visits, it was always crazy, so being able to play there this time is gonna be fun,” Devonshire said. “I love playing in environments where it seems like they don’t like you, so you get to compete.”

Bartholomew wasn’t recruited by any Power Five program, aside from Pitt, coming out of Blue Mountain High in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, and he didn’t grow up with a vested interest in the Backyard Brawl himself, but after playing in it himself, he’s seen what it’s all about. Now he’s excited to go into a hostile environment and experience the other side of the rivalry.

It seems to be a trend that Pitt’s players are excited about going into hostile territory. It started with Pat Narduzzi setting the tone in meetings and in practice, but some things also don’t need to be said either. It’s the Backyard Brawl after all.

“Of course, we’re playing all the West Virginia every day, at all times, making sure that it’s so annoying that when we get out there, we’re gonna punch ’em in the mouth,” McMillon said.

Konata Mumpfield played in the Backyard Brawl last season, hauling in five receptions for 71 yards in his Pitt debut, and he’s looking forward to the hostile crowd in Morgantown, too. But, to be honest, he just likes to play in front of any crowd.

Neal Brown on Expected Atmosphere for Backyard Brawl: ‘I Hope It’s Electric’

“I take it as a blessing being able to play in those environments,” Mumpfield said after practice Wednesday. “A lot of people wish they could play in those environments, and coming from Akron, there wasn’t anybody at our games. So, it’s definitely a blessing to be able to go into a hostile environment and play the game that you love.”

The Backyard Brawl is slated to kickoff in Morgantown Saturday for the first time since 2011. And the environment will certainly be unlike anything else that Pitt goes through this season.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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