‘10,000 passes’: Preparation, an accurate arm key in Kedon Slovis winning starting quarterback position over Nick Patti


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Starting quarterback Kedon Slovis at Pitt football practice on Aug. 25 at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

By Richie Smiechowski, Assistant Sports Editor

Kedon Slovis was on top of the college football world after his first year as quarterback of the USC Trojans. The Arizona native was stellar in 2019, passing for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns at a remarkable 71.9% completion rate.

Now, nearly three years to the day from his historic debut against Stanford, Slovis finds himself in a drastically different situation. Once a Heisman contender and a projected first-round draft pick, injuries resulting in on-field struggles forced an early end to his college career in Los Angeles. He entered the transfer portal last December with two years of eligibility left.

On the other side of the country, Pitt’s football team just had their best season in recent memory and were losing their Heisman finalist quarterback Kenny Pickett to the NFL draft. Seizing the opportunity, Slovis committed to Pitt, saying that the combination of the team’s coaching staff and returning talent made the perfect combination.

“When I looked at the opportunity, it was a no-brainer,” Slovis said. “It jumped to the top of my list immediately.”

Despite Slovis being a highly touted transfer portal acquisition, head coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff made it clear that he wasn’t going to be guaranteed the starting quarterback position — he needed to win the job over senior quarterback Nick Patti.

For the last few seasons, Patti was second string to Pickett, playing only in blowouts or when his counterpart went down with an injury. He finally got his chance to start when Pickett opted out of last year’s Peach Bowl, but left the game with a collarbone injury after marching the offense down the field for a touchdown on their second drive of the game.

Patti’s in-game performance sample size was small, but was enough to convince the coaching staff that a summer quarterback battle was in order. Patti said he was confident going into the competition, choosing not to focus on the hype surrounding Slovis.

“It’s another chance to prove that I’m going to be that dude, and that just speaks to my confidence,” Patti said. “I had an idea we were going to bring someone in, with Kenny [Pickett] leaving, with us being ACC Champions, we’re a hot spot to be … I wasn’t worried about anything other than being healthy, learning the offense and trying to get a good connection with the guys.”

The two quarterbacks first true head-to-head matchup came in the annual Blue-Gold spring game. Patti’s years of experience with the Pitt offense resulted in an impressive performance while Slovis faltered and looked uncomfortable most of the afternoon.

For the rest of the offseason the two quarterbacks went head-to-head for the coaching staff while simultaneously growing closer as teammates. They made it a priority to build a rapport with the offense and, according to senior wide receiver Jared Wayne, pledged to go beyond practices to build chemistry.

“We attributed our summer to 10,000 catches,” Wayne said. “We were out there pretty much every day getting extra work.”

Slovis said the inspiration for the 10,000-pass regimen came from former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.

“Someone brought up to me that Joe Burrow and LSU, in that 2019 year, that they did that,” Slovis said. “Why not strive to be like them, they’re probably the greatest offense in college football history.”

Slovis was also confident that he could win the starting spot coming into training camp. The quarterback maintained that he wasn’t worried about the added pressure of winning the job, deciding to focus on learning the new offense.

“Day in and day out, you’re not thinking ‘what do I have to do different to win the job?’” Slovis said. “My idea was go out, do your job, execute the offense as well as you can and things will kind of take care of themselves.”

Both Slovis and Patti shined in training camp, making positive impressions on Narduzzi and new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr.

“The quarterback room is special,” Cignetti said. “Both Nick and Kedon have done an outstanding job learning the system, competing, learning with each other … we’ve had a lot of fun doing it.”

As training camp came to an end and Pitt’s opening matchup against WVU drew nearer, the coaching staff still chose to play their cards close to their chest, maintaining that they were still comparing the two quarterbacks’ performances.

“You grade everything,” Cignetti said. “What’s it take to be the starting quarterback not only here at Pitt, but generally anywhere? Which quarterback is going to make the best decisions? You got to be able to complete the ball, you got to minimize turnovers, so every period that we’re in, we’re grading it, we’re evaluating it.”

The silence from Southside persisted until last Wednesday, just over a week before the Backyard Brawl. Narduzzi scheduled a press conference where he announced Slovis as the week one starter. He and Cignetti both cited accuracy as the main distinction between the two players’ skill sets.

“Kedon is really, really good in the pocket,” Narduzzi said, “putting the ball where our receivers are going to catch it and be able to get yards after the catch.”

Although he lost out on the starting spot, both the players and coaching staff are confident in Patti’s ability to come in and perform in any situation.

“It’s great because both guys that were in that competition are great quarterbacks,” Wayne said. “At the end of the day, God forbid Kedon gets hurt or anything like that, I have faith in Nick as well, so I’m very happy for Kedon and just excited to get the season started.”

For Slovis, winning the starting quarterback job is just further recognition that he is an integral part of this year’s Pitt football team. Last Friday, he was announced as one of the team’s four captains which, according to Slovis, is the highest honor he could achieve as a player and a true measure that he belongs in Pittsburgh.

“It means a lot,” Slovis said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for those guys, and to know that a good amount of them, or enough of them voted for me to be a captain … All the awards and accolades, they get voted on by people outside of the building, members of the media who just watch the games. They don’t know what goes on behind the scenes … captain to me is the highest honor you can possibly have.”