Braylan Lovelace, Pitt football 2023 recruiting class make press conference debuts


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

A pile of Pitt footballs.

By Brian Sherry, Assistant Sports Editor

Just 30 miles from Pittsburgh lies Leechburg, Pennsylvania. Despite the close proximity to a major city, Leechburg is quaint, with a population of about 2,000.

But for incoming first-year Braylan Lovelace, Leechburg is home. The Pitt signee is the first player from Leechburg to earn a Division I football scholarship since his father, Dave Lovelace, went to Rutgers in 1993. Lovelace said he feels honored to represent his small town and inspire the next generation in his community. 

“A lot of the younger kids, they look up to me,” Lovelace said in his introductory press conference earlier this month. “It’s really an honor to be a model for those guys and for them to see what I do. They can be the next people up to do it. A lot of people say because we go to a small school, we aren’t going to make it big.”

Lovelace — a three-star linebacker, according to 24/7 Sports — was one of several incoming first-years to have their introductory press conferences since national signing day on Feb. 1. Other signees introduced include quarterback Ty Dieffenbach, wide receiver Israel Polk and defensive lineman Isaiah Neal. 

But Lovelace may have the most intriguing story out of the bunch. In addition to representing his rural western Pennsylvania town, Lovelace also takes his academics seriously. The three-star linebacker earned offers from three Ivy League schools and West Point. Lovelace believes he can get a similar quality education at Pitt while playing high level football. 

“It was kind of a tough decision,” Lovelace said about choosing Pitt over Ivy League schools. “They say student before athlete, as it’s listed. But I knew I could get a very good education here at Pitt and I can also play Power 5 football.”

While it was tough to pass up Ivy League offers, Lovelace said Pitt was his dream school. The incoming first-year grew up watching the Panthers and often imagined himself wearing blue and gold. 

“Pitt’s always been a dream school of mine,” Lovelace said. “You know, I’m from here and I’m watching the games all the time. We’ve had season tickets since I was young, I was always watching them. I’ve always imagined myself in the jersey.”

Even though Lovelace always wanted to come to Pitt, the football program still heavily recruited him. Lovelace said the team made him feel at home, which contributed to his decision to come to Pitt. 

“When I came on my visit here, they brought me in like a family,” Lovelace said. “I wasn’t even committed or anything like that, I had just got the offer, but all the players and coaches brought me in like a family.”

Lovelace will likely become a fan favorite from the 2023 recruiting class, as he is one of the only local signees. Just three recruits in the 2023 class are from Pennsylvania, according to 24/7 Sports. The two players Lovelace was introduced with — Dieffenbach and Polk — are from California.

While the 2023 class may lack local players, it makes up for it in terms of talent. The class is ranked No. 51 in the country, according to 24/7 Sports. Linebacker Jordan Bass is the highest-rated recruit to sign with Pitt in 2023, earning a four-star ranking from 24/7 Sports. 

Dieffenbach and Polk are also immensely talented. Both earned three-star ratings from 24/7 and garnered attention from several other schools. Polk said he was previously committed to Colorado State and Washington State, but a last-minute push from Pitt ultimately influenced his decision. 

“It was the weekend before signing day was coming up. I was committed to Colorado State and I actually had a home visit from Washington State and I decommitted from Colorado State and committed to [Washington State], but I hadn’t posted anything because I didn’t announce anything yet,” Polk said. “But the next morning Pitt texted me and offered, and they came for a home visit.”

Polk is a product of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California, which is the No. 1 high school football team in the country, according to MaxPreps. The three-star wide receiver said coming out of such a prominent program taught him the importance of hard work. 

“I feel like work ethic was a big thing over there,” Polk said. “That was what they strive [for] and just to perform when you get on the field. You get chances, you got to make the best of them.”

While Polk and Dieffenbach both came from California, they went to very different high schools. Dieffenbach hails from Agoura Hills — a small school in southern California. But despite moving across the country, the three-star quarterback feels comfortable at Pitt. Dieffenbach credits offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. for making Pitt feel like home.

“The first thing I noticed about coach Cignetti was his hospitality,” Dieffenbach said. “I talked to coach Cignetti and it just felt like family from day one.”

But Dieffenbach will struggle to see the field next season, as Pitt also brought in former Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec this offseason. Jurkovec also has a connection with Cignetti, as Cignetti was Jurkovec’s offensive coordinator in 2020 and 2021. Dieffenbach says he is excited to work with Jurkovec and the other quarterbacks on the depth chart. 

“It’s great,” Dieffenbach said about working with Pitt’s quarterbacks. “I mean Phil [Jurkovec], Christian [Veilleux] and Nate [Yarnell], they know their stuff, they’re great quarterbacks, great leaders.”