Pitt graduates return to hometown, Heinz Field as the opponent


TPN File Photo

Bricen Garner makes a shoelace tackle while playing for Pitt in 2017.

By Frankie Richetti, Staff Writer

Homecoming came early at Heinz Field for two Pitt graduates returning to face their former team. A pair of former Panthers celebrated in front of friends and family on the turf they called home for years on Saturday, after defeating a team they transferred away from.

Senior defensive backs Bricen Garner and Therran Coleman both hail from Pittsburgh and opted to stay home and play for their hometown university back in 2016, as members of the same recruiting class under Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi. They helped their new team — the Western Michigan Broncos — shock the Panthers in a 44-41 upset win last weekend.

Each spent four years at Pitt before transferring to Western Michigan together in 2020. The duo got the chance to return home this past weekend to play at Heinz Field once more, but this time on the opposing sideline from their former teammates.

They look back fondly on their time in Pittsburgh. Garner said it meant a lot to both players to represent their City at Pitt.

“Being from the City, it was everything you could ask for,” Garner said.

Coleman added that he’s maintained the bonds he built with many of the players from his class. 

“It was a great bonding moment,” Coleman said. “I have a great relationship with those guys.”

The duo combined to appear in 77 games as Panthers, starting eight of those contests. Coleman left the Panthers to join the Broncos in January 2020 as a graduate transfer, and Garner followed suit that summer, announcing his transfer with a year of eligibility remaining. Both assumed the 2020 season would be their last ride, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the NCAA granted collegiate athletes an extra year to play.

Coleman did not play for the entirety of the 2020 season due to an injury that occured in practice, which made his decision to take the extra year an easy one. Garner shined throughout his 2020 season, starting all six games for the Broncos and totaling four pass breakups and 3.5 tackles for loss, which was good enough to earn First Team All-MAC honors.

The Central Catholic grad said he excelled because “everything molded me into the player I am today. All the trials and tribulations allowed me to flourish.”

When Garner surveyed his options in the transfer portal, Coleman urged him to do what was best for himself. The two built a friendship that dates back years — starting in high school when they played together for Evolve, a 7-on-7 football team based out of western Pennsylvania. They also played together in the Big 33 Classic, a showcase event for Pennsylvania’s and Maryland’s elite high school talent.

The pair is excited about getting the opportunity to play together again this season. Garner and Coleman were in the starting lineups against the Panthers last weekend.

“It makes it more fun, we are like brothers,” Coleman said. “It makes me more comfortable with [Garner] back there.”

Both couldn’t deny that lining up against their former teammates added extra emotion to the game.

“It makes it more fun, I bet they think of me still,” Coleman said.

Garner added that during game week, there was some added emotion playing against the Panthers that he tried to ignore. 

“It’s another game but you also have a little connection there,” Garner said. “I’m treating it as business.”

During a media availability last week, Pitt senior wide receiver Taysir Mack said Coleman was one of the first friends he met after arriving in Pittsburgh and was excited to play against him. When asked, Coleman didn’t pinpoint one player in particular he was looking forward to playing against — insisting he was eager to play against “all 70 guys.”

Garner anticipated a lot of love upon returning to Heinz FIeld from friends and family living in the City.

“There’s gonna be a lot of energy, a lot of love,” Garner said. “Anytime you get to play in front of your family at any point of your career, it’s special.”

The respect was still there though, as in the midst of the Broncos celebrating across the Heinz Field turf, the first thing Garner did was meet Pitt super senior quarterback Kenny Pickett at midfield and shake his hand. Pickett was a part of the same recruiting class that brought in the duo of defensive backs back in 2016.

“They’re great players,” Pickett said. “I knew they were going to be really tough today — they both had great games.”