Jones, Twyman have sights set on 2020 season


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Defensive lineman Jaylen Twyman (97) posted a career-high six tackles and added 1.5 sacks, bringing his team leading total for the season to 4.5.

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

For most people, control is in short supply right now. Stay-at-home orders, business closures and quarantines are expected to extend well into the summer and timelines for a return to normalcy are fluid. It can be easy to lose focus on the world beyond COVID-19, but Pitt senior defensive end Patrick Jones II said he believes in that future, and its dependence upon his present.

That’s why when Jones was asked Wednesday whether or not he is prepared for the possibility that football might not be played in 2020, he was stubbornly optimistic.

“I just keep saying there’s going to be a season because I believe in speaking stuff into existence,” Jones said. “I believe words are powerful.”

Jones and junior defensive line-mate Jaylen Twyman did just that, speaking beliefs into existence, in a Wednesday Zoom call with local media. While head coach Pat Narduzzi has been preaching an abundance of caution before returning to normal practices and asked for a minimum of six weeks preparation with his team before the season begins, Twyman and Jones vocalized their confidence in the feasibility of a normal season.

“I’m 100% comfortable [with returning to practice],” Twyman said. “I’m ready to get back with my brothers. I feel safe around them … I’m comfortable around them and I know that they’ve been in good hands.”

Jones added that he “trusts that [his teammates] have been doing the right thing,” when it comes to staying healthy and avoiding infection. Twyman also said that he believes players will only need a few weeks of contact practices before they are in good enough shape to play.

They are far from the only ones hopeful for college football’s return, but could be amongst those with the most to lose if cancellation becomes reality. The duo of Jones and Twyman were anchors of a dominant pass rush that helped the Panthers tie for the ACC’s third best scoring defense in 2019. Should a 2020 season take place, they will return to Pitt alongside a host of talented and experienced Panther playmakers.

And after struggling down the stretch of the 2019 season, Pitt’s players, coaches and fans are hoping for a breakout 2020 season where the program makes a leap into the sport’s elite. 

But for now, they have to wait and prepare for the season they expect, largely alone and in their own distinct ways. Jones is the more experienced of the two and exudes a combination of age and mindfulness. He’s opted for a focus on the intangible — deep self-reflection and time with family during his eight weeks at home in Virginia. Meanwhile, the baby-faced Twyman, who has logged only one year of starting experience, spoke more to frequent one-on-one workouts with his trainer, trying to perfect his pass rush technique.

There are still daily team meetings over Zoom, ranging from individual talks with position coaches, to full team meetings, even to conversations with NFL superstars, but both Twyman’s and Jones’ workouts require more self motivation.

According to Jones, newly minted strength coach Michael Stacchiotti tries to check in, give guidelines and make sure that even players without weights have a program that keeps them in shape, but quarantine and social distancing has given Jones and Twyman an insight into how to be a professional.

“It gives you an idea of what it’s going to be like in the pros,” Jones said. “During the offseason, in the pros, you have scheduled time, you have free time, so you have to make your time count … It teaches you how and when to handle your business.”

That experience will likely come in sooner rather than later. Both are pegged as top prospects for next year’s NFL Draft. But the duo of standout defenders has been, and still is, focused on continuing strong careers at Pitt.

Both announced soon after a Quick Lane Bowl victory over Eastern Michigan last December that they would be returning to school for another year, decisions which Twyman said were easy to make.

“During the season I wasn’t thinking ‘Oh I’m gonna declare at the end of the season’,” Twyman said. “I was focused on making plays with my brothers and winning games… [Jones and I] were presented with the opportunity at the end of the season, but I wasn’t tripping over declaring.”

Today, they are firmly settled on 2020. Like human manifestations of the left brain-right brain dichotomy, Jones and Twyman are making different preparations for the season they both are confident will be played. With what may be some slight hyperbole, Twyman underscored their hunger.

“We’d be ready for a game tomorrow,” Tywman said.

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