Pitt football players showcase their talents in front of NFL scouts at Pro Day


Hannah Wilson | Assistant Visual Editor

Pitt football players run with a weight during NFL Pro Day on Wednesday.

By Brian Sherry, Assistant Sports Editor

With the NFL Draft less than a month away, prospective draftees are giving it their all in hopes of hearing their name called in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Wednesday offered a perfect opportunity for Pitt NFL-hopefuls, as over a dozen players gathered inside UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for Pitt’s Pro Day. The prospects hoped to impress the dozens of NFL scouts from across the country in attendance

Defensive tackle Calijah Kancey was the main attraction for NFL scouts, as he is Pitt’s only projected first round pick, according to the NFL. Kancey dominated the NFL Combine, posting an impressive 4.67 second 40 yard dash time. But now, Kancey says he feels great heading into the final stretch before the Draft.

“I feel great,” Kancey said. “I feel like I checked off a lot of boxes and I’m ready to go.”

Kancey opted to not run the 40 yard dash again at Pro Day, but instead chose to show off his speed in other ways. The former-Panther lineman ran the three-cone drill and posted another impressive performance.

Kancey’s speed has drawn a lot of comparisons to another former-Panther — current Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald. While Kancey embraces the comparison, he still wants to prove a name for himself.

“That’s a great comparison,” Kancey said in regards to  his similarity to Doanld. “That’s something to be happy of, but I’m Calijah Kancey.

Defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (8) runs around obstacles at NFL Pro Day on Wednesday. (Hannah Wilson | Assistant Visual Editor)

Kancey wasn’t the only former-Panther in the spotlight on Wednesday. Linebacker SirVocea Dennis may have had the most impressive performance of the day. Dennis missed most events at the Combine due to injury, but he made up for his absence with a dominant performance on Wednesday. 

The linebacker prospect started the day with a 41.5 inch vertical jump, drawing a deafening reaction from his teammates in attendance. Dennis said he met his expectations for Pro Day.

“There a lot of talk out there that I’m not athletic or I can’t do a lot of things,” Dennis said in regard to concerns surrounding him coming into Wednesday. “So I just want to make sure that I could show that and be proud of my results.”

Dennis rounded out his day with a 10 foot five inch broad jump, a 4.63 second 40 yard dash and a 4.34 second pro shuttle drill. The linebacker prospect also turns heads with his leadership, as he served as captain of the Panthers in 2022. Dennis hopes NFL scouts take notice of his presence off the field.

“[I’m] not just a great football player, but [I’m] a great person off the field,” Dennis said.“I’m a nice young man that takes things seriously, I’m accountable and I just love to be here.”

Running back Israel Abanikanda also turned heads at Pro Day. One of the biggest questions surrounding Abanikanda prior to Wednesday was how he would perform at the 40 yard dash, since  he did not run it at the Combine. But Abanikanda answered all questions, as he posted a blistering 4.34 second 40 yard dash time. 

“Today was just a day for me to show out,” Abanikanda said. “I was motivated after not participating in the Combine. I knew today was a big day for me, so I just wanted to show out.”

Other Pitt NFL-hopefuls also had solid performances. Offensive lineman Marcus Minor put on a show during the bench press workout, as he plowed through 31 reps of 225 pounds. Minor did not get an invite to the NFL combine, making Pro Day a crucial moment for the former-Panther lineman.

Defensive back Erick Hallett also had a strong performance, as he jumped a 37.5 inch vertical jump and ran an unofficial 4.39 second 40 yard dash. But Hallett has one thing on his side — his position. Pitt has had a defensive back taken in four of the past five NFL Drafts. Hallett credits coaching to the Panther secondary’s professional success.

“I really have to give credit to the two guys in that room — coach [Archie] Collins and coach [Cory] Sanders,” Hallett said. “They are tremendous preparers to get us into the league.”

Wide receiver Jared Wayne (5) jumps during NFL Pro Day on Wednesday. (Hannah Wilson | Assistant Visual Editor)

But some Panthers weren’t completely satisfied with their performances. Wide receiver Jared Wayne, unofficially, ran a low 4.5 second 40 yard dash. Despite posting a solid time, Wayne said he ran better times in practice.

“I ran faster a couple of times during training,” Wayne said. “But, overall, I thought the whole day was solid.

For many Pitt prospects, work doesn’t stop after Pro Day. From interviews to private workouts, all of these athletes still have a tremendous amount of work to do before they hear their name called on Draft night.