‘Just one big family’: Louis Riddick talks commencement speech, Pitt football and Kenny Pickett


Image courtesy of ESPN Images

Louis Riddick on the set of SportsCenter during ESPN’s coverage of Super Bowl LVI in Anaheim, California in February.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

Former Pitt football defensive back Louis Riddick isn’t afraid to hide his love for his alma mater. The now ESPN broadcaster and Monday Night Football announcer is quick to praise Pitt, particularly its football team, while on the call for NFL games. When broadcasts cut to Riddick in his home office, he proudly displays his Pitt football helmets for all of America to see.

Riddick remembers exactly when and where he fell in love with Pitt — in State College, Pennsylvania at Beaver Stadium. The then 9-year-old Riddick remembers taking a trip to Penn State to see Pitt take on the Nittany Lions in 1978 and being starstruck. He saw Pitt football head coach Jackie Sherrill with a yellow blazer sticking out from the navy and white crowd. This is when his pride for Pitt started.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher has tabbed the former Pitt football player and now nationally renowned football analyst as Pitt’s class of 2022 commencement speaker. Riddick said this isn’t an honor he takes lightly and that he is excited to lend some of the wisdom he’s learned over the years to the graduating class.

“I could not be more honored,” Riddick said. “I think what Chancellor Gallagher and Provost Cudd are looking for is for someone to leave a lasting impression and make a positive impact on everyone who is about to embark on that journey. To give them something to hold onto and use not just the next day, but for the rest of their life. That’s a big responsibility.”

Riddick said this responsibility is a daunting one, despite speaking to millions of people every day on television. While preparing for his speech, he thought about lessons he learned at Pitt, and one of the first that came to mind was when he was a first-year on the football team.

Riddick didn’t have immediate success on the football field at Pitt, and he wasn’t playing much on defense, despite being a highly touted recruit. When Riddick did get his shot in his first year, it wasn’t on defense — it was at fullback. He said he had to “reinvent” himself to play the position and said it was something he was nervous to do. But the move to offense helped the team and taught him early on that success is not linear.

“You have to be willing to and able to reinvent yourself and not be scared to do so because life is not linear, success is not linear,” Riddick said. “I think that’s the kind of message that I’m probably going to give the graduating class.”

Riddick’s journey since leaving Pitt has taken him through all different walks of life. The former Panther played in the NFL, worked in NFL front offices, has interviewed for NFL general manager positions and serves as a commentator on ESPN’s production of Monday Night Football. Riddick said his journey has been far from predictable and wants to stress to the graduating class to not be frustrated if things don’t go according to plan immediately.

“You have decisions to make when [something] is presented to you, and are you going to curl up in a ball and whine and complain and say that the world is against you, or are you going to formulate a new plan and attack it like hell?” Riddick said. “That’s the message I’m going to give everyone. Be patient about it. Be intentionally patient, always be working towards your goal. But don’t feel as though you have to put a timeframe and a time limit on success … success has a lot of different forms and comes in a lot of different packages.”

While Riddick lent a great deal of wisdom, he couldn’t resist talking about how proud he is to see Pitt football reemerge on the national stage. The Panthers haven’t experienced the level of success they did in 2021 since Riddick was in his adolescence. The former defensive back said the reason for the success is head coach Pat Narduzzi puts players first.

“It’s about the players — the better players you have, the better you can recruit,” Riddick said. “[Narduzzi] has done a tremendous job and you credit him, you credit his staff and credit his coaches … but you give credit to the kids that have come, that have invested their time, bought into what [Narduzzi] is selling … Pitt is on its way now and that’s great to see because it’s been a long time.”

One of the key pieces of Pitt’s ascension last season was quarterback Kenny Pickett. Riddick had very glowing reviews of Pickett and said he’s confident he’ll be very successful in the NFL.

“He’s aces, man — A pluses across the board,” Riddick said. “I think when you’re drafting quarterbacks and drafting people in the first round, the number one thing that you want as a team builder is you want someone who will allow you to lay your head down at night and sleep peacefully because you can trust that they are going to be a pro … That’s what Kenny Pickett is — he’s a pro.”

The ESPN commentator and NFL Draft analyst added that Pickett’s character is also second to none.

“He’s a great person,” Riddick said. “I also know he’s just a great young man … If I had another son, he’s the kind of dude you’d want and that’s being 100% honest.”

Riddick will offer words of wisdom to the Pitt class of 2022 on May 1. As someone who has been a part of the Pitt tradition for nearly his entire life, Riddick said he’s looking forward to helping start the next group of Panthers’ journey through life.

“I have great memories of this place, it taught me a lot of different lessons both on the field and off,” Riddick said. “It’s a tradition like no other … we’re just one big family, man. That’s why you just continue to try and help in any way you can.”