Pitt football headed in new direction with first-year players


TPN File Photo

A pile of Pitt footballs.

By Jack Markowski, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt football is coming off another successful season after finishing the 2022 campaign with a 9-4 record while also ranking No. 22 in the final AP poll. The Panthers’ roster will look quite different this fall, however, as the program produced six picks in this year’s NFL Draft along with a number of undrafted free agent signees. As a result, Pitt will rely on its incoming first-year class along with its returnees and transfers in hopes of replicating its recent achievements. 

The Panthers are no strangers towards receiving contributions from their first-year players in recent memory, particularly on offense. Wide receiver Jordan Addison tallied 666 yards and four touchdowns in his first year while earning All-American honors from several media outlets. Junior tight end Gavin Bartholomew put up 317 yards and four touchdowns in 2021 and subsequently earned Second Team All-American honors from The Athletic. Junior running back Rodney Hammond also made an impact as a first-year in 2021, with 504 yards and five touchdowns. 

The wide receiver position stands out as an area of the roster in which Pitt’s first-years can quickly get on the field and make a positive first impression. Juniors Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means return as starters, but there are plenty of targets up for grabs after the departure of leading receiver Jared Wayne. 

At the moment, it appears that first-years Israel Polk and Lamar Seymore are first in line for playing time among the newcomers. Both players recorded two receptions in Pitt’s spring game and earned reps in the game after impressing during spring practice. Polk and Seymore, both standing at 6-feet-1-inch tall, ranked as three-star recruits in the class of 2023 according to 24/7 Sports.

First-years Kenny Johnson and Zion Fowler are other potential options in the receiver room, as is redshirt first-year Addison Copeland. Copeland, who was a three-star recruit in the class of 2022 according to 24/7 Sports, did not appear in any games for the Panthers last season. However, he has a year of practice and development under his belt and could factor in down the line. 

As for the offensive line, it’s unlikely that any member of the 2023 recruiting class sees much playing time as the Panthers return several starters while boasting impressive depth across the board. Redshirt first-year tackle Ryan Baer is a name worth monitoring, however, as he appeared in three games as a true first-year last season and was Pitt’s highest-ranked recruit in the class of 2022 according to 24/7 Sports

First-year running back T.J. Harvison is an intriguing prospect in the backfield for Pitt, as he totaled nine carries for 27 yards in the spring game and was one of the Panthers’ highest-ranked recruits in the class of 2023. But with Hammond, junior Derrick Davis Jr. and graduate student C’Bo Flemister ahead of him on the depth chart, touches likely aren’t in the cards for him this fall.

Pitt’s identity as a team largely centers around its defensive line and its talent pipeline at both tackle and end looks promising for the future. Redshirt first-year defensive end Samuel Okunlola is in line for a sizable role this year after appearing in the Panthers’ final four games last season and flashing his potential during the spring game with a sack. 

Redshirt first-year defensive tackle and local product Sean FitzSimmons is another exciting piece on the line for both the present and the future. FitzSimmons, who graduated from Central Valley High School in Monaca, Pennsylvania, played in two games as a true first-year and recorded his first career sack against Rhode Island. 

The Panthers’ linebacker room lost several starters this offseason with the departures of SirVocea Dennis and Tylar Wiltz, opening up playing time for Pitt’s youngsters.

Redshirt first-year Kyle Louis is in line for snaps at the STAR spot, which is a hybrid position on the outside that carries similar responsibilities to a safety. 

First-year linebacker Jordan Bass was the Panthers’ top recruit in the class of 2023 according to 24/7 Sports, making him a prime candidate for playing time this year. His athleticism is one of his defining traits, as evidenced by his track and field background.

First-year linebacker Braylan Lovelace impressed with four tackles during the spring game and could enter the conversation as a legitimate contributor sooner rather than later for the Panthers as well. 

Pitt’s cornerback room remains largely intact from last season, but redshirt first-year Ryland Gandy could crash the party after appearing in four games last season. First-year Shadarian Harrison was a riser during the recruiting cycle and may also find his way on the field in 2023. 

The Panthers lost a number of key contributors from last year’s team this offseason, but they remain in a good position for 2023 due to the influx of young talent on their roster.