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A Deeper Look Into New Pitt Wide Receivers Coach JJ Laster

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Pitt wide receivers coach JJ Laster.

Pitt has made it official and announced the hire of new wide receivers coach JJ Laster.

Laster is the final piece of the coaching puzzle, the final offensive hire to round out an entirely new staff, and Pat Narduzzi spoke to the reasons behind Laster’s hire in the Pitt release.

“It was apparent upon first meeting JJ that he is a tremendous teacher and leader of young men,” Narduzzi said in the Pitt release. “He is the type of coach who will provide leadership well beyond the field and impact our players’ lives outside of football. Our entire team is really going to enjoy getting to know him.

“JJ has a great understanding of coach Bell’s offense given their really successful collaborations at WCU,” Narduzzi continued. “We are looking forward to getting JJ started as we prepare for spring ball.”

Laster, who coached at Western Carolina last season and accepted a job at Old Dominion in January, is just the latest former WCU staffer to join the Pitt staff this offseason — following offensive coordinator Kade Bell, offensive line coach Jeremy Darveau and a couple of assistants.

“I am incredibly honored and blessed to join coach Narduzzi’s staff at the University of Pittsburgh,” Laster said in the release. “I know there is a great tradition of wide receiver excellence at Pitt. We are going to work tremendously hard to build on that rich history. I’m really looking forward to getting to Pitt to meet our players and prepare for a great spring.”

There’s not a whole lot to look at when it comes to Laster’s coaching experience. He’s 35 years old, was an All-Conference running back at Jacksonville in the late 2000s and spent a few seasons at the high school level in Florida before getting his collegiate start back at Jacksonville. What he does immediately offer is familiarity.

Laster accepted the Old Dominion job earlier this offseason, but once former wide receivers coach Tiquan Underwood jumped to the NFL, it opened up the potential to reunite with Bell.

Laster has quite obvious ties to the new Pitt offense coordinator. He spent the last three seasons as the wide receivers coach at Western Carolina, working closely with Poppi Williams, Censere Lee and Desmond Reid (who are now all at Pitt), and it’s that relationship with the players, his knowledge of Bell’s offense and the ability to hit the ground running that gave him a leg up.

Western Carolina had one of the most explosive offenses in the FCS last season, and the wide receivers were particularly effective. Williams racked up 117 catches for 1,572 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2021-22, and Lee recorded 82 receptions for 1,426 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2022-23. They’ll both be in the fold for Pitt in 2024.

Western Carolina was explosive in 2023, boasting a balanced offensive attack in which the Catamounts averaged 37.5 points and 504.1 yards per game (321.2 passing yards and 182.9 rushing yards). For reference, that’s fourth in points and first in total yards per game at the FCS level. It was an improvement coming off a season in which the Catamounts averaged 31.9 points and 485.4 yards (301.1 passing yards and 184.3 rushing yards) per game. WCU jumped in just about every offensive category.

Laster received his start as a graduate assistant at Jacksonville in 2014-15, which coincided with Bell’s tenure as the Dolphins’ quarterback, and he spent three years at Tusculum (D-II) in a variety of roles from 2016-18.

He was initially hired as the Pioneers’ running backs coach, but he was promoted to wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator in his final season. Laster spent one season at Gardner-Webb in 2019, working with the running backs and tight ends, before he was hired as the receivers coach at WCU.

Laster was a key assistant for Bell over the last three seasons, and with the way that Narduzzi has placed his trust in Bell when it comes to running the offense going forward, it makes sense that Pitt opted for familiarity in both Darveau and Laster. It remains to be seen whether or not it will work, but the plan moving forward is clear.

Pitt features a receiving corps that has potential but will need a player or two to step up as legitimate difference-makers in Bell’s new up-tempo offense. It will be up to Laster to help speed up the transition and hit the ground running immediately this spring. Konata Mumpfield, DaeDae Reynolds and Kenny Johnson are set to return in 2024, and a group of young wideouts in Che Nwabuko, Izzy Polk, Lamar Seymore and Zion Fowler-El have been supplemented by Williams and Lee.

The 2024 recruiting class featured two wideouts, three-star Cameron Monteiro from Brockton, Mass. and three-star Tyreek Robinson from Shreveport, La. It wasn’t the biggest class, but it will help supplement a large class of 2023.

Laster has connections in Florida, which will likely be a major recruiting area of his, and Pitt will need it. With the loss of Underwood and Charlie Partridge, the Panthers will need to re-establish old ties and continue to build new ones in the talent-rich Sunshine State.

Laster is the last piece of an entirely new offensive coaching staff. Underwood was expected to be the sole holdover from the previous staff, but it is a new, rather inexperienced offensive staff that will enter the 2024 season.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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srs28704
srs28704
1 month ago

What type of Offense is it? Mis-direction, get fast dudes in space, put people in conflict?
Did PITT get a 2nd punter to address the nepotism disaster demonstrated frequently last Season?

Kelvin Byrd
Kelvin Byrd
1 month ago

While I was really excited about Bell as the OC, the rest of the staff hires have been extremely underwhelming.

I just can’t see any confidence in anyone else.

This could be the end for NarDog.

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