‘I love Pittsburgh’: Pitt football introduces three local transfer players


TPN File Photo

A pile of Pitt footballs.

By Brian Sherry, Assistant Sports Editor

Western Pennsylvania is a historic hotbed for top-tier football recruits. From Joe Montana to Joe Namath, western Pennsylvania has seen its fair share of legendary football stars. But Pitt historically struggled to recruit local talent to stay in Pittsburgh. Montana left for Notre Dame and Namath went south to Alabama, leaving Pitt behind in the process. 

But Pitt’s luck with recruiting local stars is beginning to change. 

On Wednesday, Pitt football introduced three transfer signees, all with Pittsburgh roots. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec, safety Derrick Davis Jr. and safety Donovan McMillon all made their debut press conference for Pitt on Wednesday. Jurkovec spoke highly of Pittsburgh, encouraging local recruits to stay home.

“I love Pittsburgh,” Jurkovec said. “I love this city. It has everything to offer to recruits. I think all the WPIAL kids should stay home, come to Pitt.” 

Jurkovec was the most high-profile new player in attendance at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Wednesday. The former Boston College signal caller grew up in Gibsonia, just over 15 miles north of the city. Jurkovec then dominated at local Pine-Richland high school, earning himself a four-star prospect rating by 24/7 Sports. 

Transferring to Pitt also enabled Jurkovec to reunite with current Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. Jurkovec and Cignetti previously worked together at Boston College. Jurkovec credited Cignetti for much of his success at Boston College.

“I owe a lot of my success at Boston College to Coach Cignetti,” Jurkovec said. “He really knows how to coach quarterbacks. I am so happy to be back in that system and the way they train the quarterback, it’s different.”

But Jurkovec was not the only new transfer to make their debut on Wednesday. Davis was also introduced as a highly dynamic player for next season’s roster. The former LSU safety admitted that coming to Pitt was not an automatic choice when he entered the transfer portal, but returning to Pittsburgh ultimately helped his decision. 

“I wouldn’t say [the process] was quick,” Davis said. “It kinda took some time. But once I knew I was in contact with [head coach Pat] Narduzzi, it was like OK. I kinda had them at the top of my list, ‘cause Pitt is home and why not come back home, play for the city.”

Davis is a dynamic athlete, playing both sides of the ball. In high school, Davis dominated at running back and defensive back, earning a four-star grade by 24/7 Sports. Davis was signed as a safety at LSU, but occasionally filled in at running back for the Tigers. Now, Davis intends to focus on the offensive side of the ball at Pitt. 

“Running back,” Davis said when asked what position he will play at Pitt. “After I scored in [LSU’s] bowl game, I was like, yeah, I’m going to just stick to running back and thrive from there. And I knew Pitt was losing their main running back [Israel Abanikanda], so I made the decision to commit here and hopefully do big things here.”

But Davis will join an already crowded running back room at Pitt. Despite losing star running back Israel Abanikanda to the NFL Draft, the Panther running back group is still packed with talent. With sophomore Rodney Hammond and redshirt senior C’Bo Flemister both returning next season, Davis will have serious competition for the starting job.

Davis also has a connection with fellow Pittsburgh-native McMillon. The pair played against each other several times in their high school careers, with both ultimately committing to SEC schools. Davis recounted a meeting between the duo in Florida, where they discussed returning to Pittsburgh. 

“It’s so funny, ‘cause after [LSU] was done playing Florida [McMillon and I] met in the middle of the field,” Davis said. “And we was just seeing how things were going to pan out for our future and we asked each other ‘Would you ever return home?’ and he said ‘yeah’ and I said ‘yeah’ and now we are returning back home.”

McMillon also welcomed the return to Pittsburgh and the chance to play with his former high school rival. 

“I’m glad we went our separate ways,” McMillon said. “And we got a chance to come back and reunite and go win championships now.”

Standing at 6-foot-2, McMillon is a large and physical defensive back. The sophomore safety garnered national attention at Peters Township High School, before ultimately committing to Florida. Despite having limited playing time, McMillon still appreciates his time at Florida as a learning experience. 

“I feel like I had to get away [from Pittsburgh],” McMillon said. “I feel like I had to go somewhere else, go be able to mature. And I just wanted the experience and I feel like I got that experience. And now I feel like I’m grown from that and now I get an opportunity to come back.”

McMillon’s transfer to Pitt will bolster an already solid secondary. Returning redshirt junior M.J. Devonshire will likely lead the group, but McMillon will still get ample playing time. 

Fans will have to wait until September to see how the new transfer players pan out. But with the spring game on the horizon, all three of these players need to perform at a high level if they want to see the field next season.