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It Felt Right for New Pitt DT Anthony Johnson to Come Home



Pitt defensive tackle Anthony Johnson

Anthony Johnson was just a basketball player when he transferred to Jeannette High from Taylor Allderdice High before his junior season. But he couldn’t ignore the noise. When he’d say, ‘Nah, I’m good, I’m a basketball player,’ everyone else would say, ‘Please, just try it out.’

So, he did. He went out for a Jeannette practice over the summer. He thought he would be a wide receiver or linebacker, but instead, he was told to line up on the defensive line.

“And I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is for me,’” Johnson told Pittsburgh Sports Now.

That was nearly seven years ago — right before his junior season in 2017. It’s kind of hard to believe when he reflects upon the journey he’s taken since that first day on the football field.

“That gives me goosebumps to even think about it, but it’s been a crazy journey,” Johnson told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “Everybody’s journey is different, nobody’s journey is the same and this path I take, I just know it’s going to work out.”

Johnson — a 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive tackle from Pittsburgh — has certainly followed a winding road back to Pittsburgh. He left Jeannette following his junior season, a season in which he helped the Jayhawks to WPIAL and PIAA Class-1A titles, to finish his high school career in Cleveland, Ohio.

He went to Bowling Green out of Cleveland Heights High but only stayed one season. He transferred to Youngstown State and spent four seasons with the Penguins, emerging as a starter over his final two seasons.

Johnson logged 403 defensive snaps at YSU last season, playing in 13 games, and he recorded 25 tackles (10 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. His 16 quarterback pressures were the sixth-most amongst FCS interior defensive linemen, according to PFF.

He hit the transfer portal in December, looking for the best opportunity to get where he wants to be — the next level. He thought it was Illinois. The Illini had two defensive linemen leaving for the NFL, so there was an opportunity. Johnson thought he wanted to play in a 3-4 scheme. But he didn’t feel that way once he spent half a spring with the Illini.

He wanted to play in an attacking defense; Illinois wasn’t conducive to what he wanted. So, he hit the portal again.

Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Michigan State, Mississippi State and UAB extended offers after Johnson re-entered the portal. He picked Mississippi State over Pitt, and it — initially — came down to a previous relationship.

“Mississippi State and Pitt, it was really a relationship I had with my old coach (from Youngstown State), that’s really what drew me to Mississippi State — and playing in the SEC — but at the end of the day, it was about getting to the next level and having the best opportunity to dominate,” Johnson said. “And I feel like Pitt was that.”

Pitt offered when Johnson initially hit the portal last year, re-offered when he hit the portal upon leaving Illinois and remained consistent throughout the process. There was a scholarship hurdle to clear, but the Panthers wanted Johnson.

Pat Narduzzi and Tim Daoust laid out the plan over a couple of visits, but it was the message — and knowledge — from Narduzzi that sold Johnson.

“When (Pitt) came in the picture, I knew I had to take it seriously,” Johnson said. “After I sat down with coach Narduzzi, we watched film and the knowledge he gave me in just a little bit of time was something I wanted to be a part of.

“It was the best opportunity for me. We sat down and watched film, me and coach Narduzzi, a couple of weeks ago, sat down for a couple of hours and watched some film and he just really impressed me with his knowledge of the game. But it stuck out between all the other coaches.”

So, Johnson decided to come home. He decided to put his trust in Narduzzi and Daoust and come home. It’s a blessing from God, first of all, he said, but Pittsburgh is his home.

“It means the world to me to be playing in front of my family and my friends,” Johnson said. “It’s a chance to bring Pitt back to their winning ways.”

Pitt will need Johnson in 2024-25. He’s played as many defensive snaps in the last year as just about the entire defensive tackle unit combined. He’s a 3-technique lineman who should immediately slot into the lineup.

It isn’t easy to replace 90% of snaps from any unit. But at the same time, change was needed on the interior of the defensive line. The unit didn’t make splash plays and didn’t stop the run. It was missing twitch and quickness.

By all accounts, the returning defensive tackles aren’t. Nahki Johnson and Sean FitzSimmons are leading the way, and Nick James, Isaiah Neal and Elliot Donald will rotate. Pitt likes to rotate on the interior, even if someone like Kancey is on the roster, and that isn’t going to change when there isn’t someone like him around. It’s about finding the right combination now.

Even young players like Francis Brewu and Jahsear Whittington could be in the mix entering the season, despite their newness.

Johnson isn’t exactly a guaranteed, having spent his entire career at the Group of Five level, but he was highly sought-after this spring. He’s a veteran who should immediately slot into the starting rotation. He’s agile enough to play inside and outside. And most importantly, he’s another solid addition to the unit.

The goal is to win. To win the ACC, a national championship and everything in between. But of course, while his focus is on team success, he has his own goals, too. He wants to succeed in every regard.

“My individual goal is just to dominate on tape all year,” Johnson said. “Every team we play, just dominating.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Kelvin Byrd
Kelvin Byrd
12 days ago

Dude changes schools as often as most people change their shirt.

Good luck, but I’ll take a a wait-and-see approach to this player.

12 days ago
Reply to  Kelvin Byrd

We have him for ONE year, so hopefully he kicks ass this year!

Tom D
Tom D
12 days ago

after watching the Defense get annhiliated last year against Syracuse, where they got destroyed, left right and center, this team needs defensive stoutness. Up front. That game was a disgrace on the defensive side of the ball. National embarrassment.

10 days ago

YSU is FCS Karl, not Go5.

Ryan Scholato
Ryan Scholato
10 days ago

He said he wants to bring back the winning ways at Pitt. That’s funny!

Last edited 10 days ago by Ryan Scholato

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