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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
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Feature | ‘It felt great’: Pitt quarterback Phil Jurkovec impresses in debut

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Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor

As a senior at Pine Richland High School in the Pittsburgh-suburb of Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, redshirt senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec was on top of the world. The Rams’ signal caller had just led his high school to a PIAA 6A state championship and was set to begin his college career at his dream school — Notre Dame

But things didn’t exactly turn out the way Jurkovec had planned. 

During his two years with the Fighting Irish, Jurkovec struggled mightily, as he failed to win the starting job over former-Saints quarterback Ian Book. In an attempt to save his career, Jurkovec transferred to Boston College in 2020. Still, with the Eagles, Jurkovec failed to live up to expectations, as injuries plagued his time in Boston. 

But now, in his final season of eligibility, Jurkovec has returned home. The western Pennsylvania native made his debut for Pitt football last Saturday in its season opening 47-7 rout of Wofford, throwing for 214 yards and one touchdown. The redshirt senior also showed off his speed in the debut, as he ripped off a 23-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. 

Jurkovec said he is happy playing football in his home region again. 

“It felt great,” Jurkovec said about his return to Pittsburgh. “It felt great to be out there, playing on that field [Acrisure Stadium].”

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was also impressed with the redshirt senior’s debut. Narduzzi was especially impressed with Jurkovec’s confidence and ability to make plays in the air and on the ground.  

“I thought Phil [Jurkovec] was really good,” Narduzzi said. “He’s got mobility. Did you see how calm he is in the pocket? He just sits back there. Stuff is flying by him and stuff. I would be a little skittish back there, but he is just so smooth in the pocket. It’s like he doesn’t care.”

At least some of the reason Jurkovec was able to look comfortable and confident on Saturday, despite only transferring less than a year ago, is because of his familiarity with the Pitt offense. Not only was Jurkovec reunited with his hometown when he transferred to Pitt, he was also reunited with his old offensive coordinator — current Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. Jurkovec and Cignetti previously worked together at Boston College. Cignetti served as offensive coordinator in Boston for two seasons. 

Jurkovec said his familiarity with Cignetti’s offense helped him reading out the plays on Saturday. 

“Whatever’s called, you’re going to make those reads,” Jurkovec said. “But you’re not going to specifically target a person. We can do that, at times. But most of the time you’re just reading out the progression.” 

Jurkovec’s wide receivers were also happy with the signal caller’s confidence and comfortability with the Panther offense. Junior wide receiver Konata Mumpfield noticed Jurkovec’s confidence with extending plays and getting the ball downfield. Jurkovec and Mumpfield connected on three passes for 34 yards in the win over Wofford. 

“He can definitely extend plays, for sure,” Mumpfield said. “Obviously, you saw him run, get the touchdown. He was just extending plays well and getting it to our playmakers.”

Despite the strong performance, Jurkovec still believes there’s room for improvement. Early in the game, the redshirt senior admitted to feeling rusty, as the team struggled on its first two drives. Jurkovec said he noticed areas he’d like to improve on, as well as continuing to find his groove again as the season progresses. 

“[I was] shaking off some rust, throughout the whole game,” Jurkovec said. “It was a little sloppy. I made some throws, I made some throws I’d like to have back. I think I could have had better footwork on certain plays. But that’s just going to come with it, it’s been a little bit of time since being on the field.” 

Narduzzi also noticed some areas Jurkovec can improve on. Specifically, Narduzzi believes there were a few moments that Jurkovec could have run for a big game instead of throwing the ball away. 

“I wish he did run out a couple of times late instead of trying to throw,” Narduzzi said. “He is such a good runner, let him run. There’s nothing that defense hates more than scrambling out of the pocket, decent coverage. But then you throw an incomplete pass. So that’s something we’ll clean up. He is smart, and he just hadn’t had an opportunity to run very much in practice.”

It is clear that Jurkovec still has a lot of work to do if he wants to live up to the expectations he set in high school. He is set to face his first real test next week against Cincinnati — a game which could give the Panthers a big momentum boost heading into the Backyard Brawl on Sept. 16. 

Still, Jurkovec’s confidence in his hard work remains. The season has only just begun, but Jurkovec and the Panthers can head into the rest of the year knowing that their determination showed on Saturday against Wofford. 

“We put in a lot of work,” Jurkovec said. “So it felt good to get the first one.”

About the Contributor
Brian Sherry, Sports Editor