A number of key contributors from the 2021 ACC championship-winning Pitt team have already moved on, with more than a few already in the NFL, and a few more will soon be on the way.
When Pitt holds its Senior Night ceremony Thursday just before kickoff against Boston College, a few of the players being honored will likely be in the NFL next season — or at least fighting for an opportunity. But most of those being honored will be celebrated for their contributions to an ACC championship.
Despite the hurried nature of the short week, the Pitt coaching staff has emphasized the importance of what Senior Night means for its senior class.
“Our focus in our team meeting today was gratitude,” Narduzzi said Monday at his weekly press conference. “Just talked about how grateful we are, not only to the seniors and the guys playing their last game at Acrisure Stadium but also to really everybody in this room.
“But the seniors mean a lot, and there are a lot of guys that won an ACC championship in here. Regardless of what happens in ’22 or ’23, the one thing about most of these guys up front is they’ve helped us win an ACC championship, and no one can ever take that away from them. That’s something impressive.”
Jake Kradel was the starting right guard on Pitt’s ACC championship team, spending time at center, too. And Matt Goncalves and Blake Zubovic — while neither gets perhaps the credit they deserve — started nine games between them and served as key contributors in a record-breaking offense.
The trio of David Green, Devin Danielson and Tyler Bentley rotated played an awful lot on the interior of a very good offensive line, and Marquis Williams, M.J. Devonshire and A.J. Woods — unknowingly — were in the first of three seasons playing a lot of snaps together on the back end.
And, most importantly, there were life-lasting bonds built between that ACC championship-winning squad, ones that will continue indefinitely.
“You have your up years and your down years, and just doesn’t matter,” Narduzzi said. “Like I love these guys in this room. These seniors, most of them have been here for a long time, and this is our family in here.”
Williams, who is in his sixth and final season at Pitt, has already expressed how surreal it feels to be entering his final home game as a Pitt Panther. Narduzzi acknowledged that sadness, watching a few key members of the Pitt squad play their final home game, and he wants nothing more than to send Williams — and all the seniors — off with a final victory at home. One more Victory Lights.
But, of course, walking on Senior Night isn’t a surefire indication that a player is playing in his final home game. Although it is for some. Kradel, Zubovic, Green, Danielson, Bentley, Williams, Phil Jurkovec, C’Bo Flemister, Malcolm Epps and Shayne Simon are in their sixth — and final — seasons. And A.J. Woods is in his fifth and final season. This is the end.
There are 14 seniors, with further eligibility, who are able to return for another season in 2024. And just because a player does or does not walk doesn’t necessarily indicate a decision has been made one way or the other.
Jared Wayne and SirVocea Dennis didn’t walk last season, and Kradel and Zubovic did. So, you never know. And Narduzzi raised another rather important example.
“As you guys know, Senior Day, some guys walk and come back,” Narduzzi said. “I think Kenny Pickett walked on Senior Day, and he came back. So, just use that as one good example. Everybody has got decisions to make in the future, what’s best for them, and we understand that, and we’ll help guide them in the best way we possibly can.
So, while who walks and who doesn’t will certainly bear monitoring, that decision doesn’t mean everything. So, here are the seniors on this season’s squad.
QB Phil Jurkovec
RB C’Bo Flemister
TE Malcolm Epps
OL Jake Kradel
OL Blake Zubovic
DL Devin Danielson
DL David Greem
DL Tyler Bentley
LB Shayne Simon
CB Marquis Williams
LB Bangally Kamara — can return
S Buddy Mack — can return
DE Dayon Hayes — can return
DL DeAndre Jules — can return
WR Bub Means — can return
RB Daniel Carter — can return
DE Nate Temple — can return
TE Karter Johnson — can return
CB A.J. Woods — can’t return
CB M.J. Devonshire — can return
LB Brandon George — can return
OL Jason Collier Jr. — can return
DE Bam Brima — can return
OL Ryan Jacoby — can return
OL Matt Goncalves — can return