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Pitt LB Commit Justin Thompson Found His Inspiration in Pittsburgh

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Pitt linebacker commit Justin Thompson

Justin Thompson certainly didn’t lack any inspiration during the three days he spent in Pittsburgh over the weekend.

Thompson — a 6-foot-3, 225-pound three-star linebacker from Good Counsel in Olney, Md. — spent time with just about every member of the coaching staff during his official visit, but obviously, he spent the most time with his future position coach.

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Ryan Manalac has been recruiting Thompson for a while now, ever since Pitt officially extended him an offer on Jan. 26, but they were able to spend some legitimate one-on-one time together over the weekend — watching film, going over plays and determining his fit in the defensive scheme.

Thompson sees Manalac as a great guy and a hard worker, but maybe most importantly, a coach he can look up to now that he’s pledged himself to the Panthers.

“The thing about him is that he played for coach Narduzzi at Cincinnati, so he actually walked on, and he’s just a real-life example that if you work hard, the results will come,” Thompson said. “He played there, worked his butt off and went to the league, played with the Bills for a couple of years, so it just shows that no matter if you’re a walk-on, second-string, third-string, or fourth-string, if you work hard, you’ll get it done. He’s just a real good example of that.” 

Thompson has a lot of respect for Manalac, not just because of his own football journey but the way he’s been able to help Pitt linebackers to the next level. And Thompson is confident that Manalac will be able to help guide him to where he wants to be.

And Thompson, to his credit, is the type of versatile athlete that Pitt prioritizes. He’s a fit at any of the three linebacker spots in the defensive scheme.

“I can play all three, so it really depends on what (Manalac) needs. I can play both the outside or the inside, so it’s what he’d like me to play.

“I feel like my game fits great in there. I’m a really aggressive, downhill, sideline-to-sideline linebacker. They’re the most aggressive defense in the country, they blitz a lot, always sending six, had the most sacks, TFLs, and they do what I like to do. How they run the defense is similar to how I do it in high school.”

Pitt has a new-look linebacker corps entering the 2024 season, having lost Shayne Simon to the NFL and Bangally Kamara and Solomon DeShields to the transfer portal, but one of the young, up-and-coming linebackers on the roster is Braylan Lovelace.

Lovelace, who is entering his second season at Pitt, hosted Thompson during his visit over the weekend. And Lovelace’s early Pitt career is exactly what Thompson is trying to replicate once he arrives.

“He’s about to be a true sophomore, but he was a true freshman, played 11 of the 12 games, I feel like he’s just a true example of showing that if you do what you’re supposed to do in practice, work hard, pay attention and study film, you can get on the field and make an impact like he did,” Thompson said. 

Lovelace did what Thompson plans to do now. Lovelace arrived early, put his head down and learned the playbook. He impressed during spring camp last year, earned a spot in the rotation and made an impact as a true freshman. Thompson is ready to do the same.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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