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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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First-year guard Aaryn Battle (1) dribbles the ball during Thursday evening’s game against Wake Forest in the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt women’s basketball falls back into their old habits, fall to Wake Forest 65-50
By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer • February 23, 2024

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First-year guard Aaryn Battle (1) dribbles the ball during Thursday evening’s game against Wake Forest in the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt women’s basketball falls back into their old habits, fall to Wake Forest 65-50
By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer • February 23, 2024

Pitt football welcomes back key starters in 2024

Freshman+Kenny+Johnson+%282%29+competes+for+a+catch+during+the+game+against+Louisville+at+Acrisure+Stadium+on+Oct+14%2C+2023.
Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor
Freshman Kenny Johnson (2) competes for a catch during the game against Louisville at Acrisure Stadium on Oct 14, 2023.

In an era dominated by the all-powerful transfer portal, college football players are no longer guaranteed to stick around for longer than a year. 

Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi expressed his thoughts on this challenge after a 58-7 loss to Notre Dame this past season.

“As a football coach, you lose a lot of good players from a year ago and you think as a coach, you’re going to replace them and obviously we haven’t,” Narduzzi said.

To counter the threat of the transfer portal, the Panthers attacked high school recruiting, landing the 43rd-best overall recruiting class in the nation according to on3. However, the Panthers are lucky to welcome back some key players who decided to return to Oakland for another year. 

Junior tight end Gavin Bartholomew announced on Dec. 1, 2023, that he was returning for his senior season. Bartholomew recorded 18 receptions for 326 yards and a touchdown in his eight games this past season. 

Bartholemew is considered one of the most talented members of Pitt’s passing attack with his sticky hands, strength and blocking intelligence. Bartholomew is one of the most valuable returners that the Panthers could have. 

Complimenting Bartholomew in the Panthers’ passing attack is junior wide receiver Konata Mumpfield, who is looking to step up as the top receiver after senior wide receiver Bub Means declared for the NFL Draft. 

Mumpfield hauled in 44 receptions for 576 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games. This last season, Pitt’s offense utilized Mumpfield as a deep threat. The Panthers want to get Mumfield the ball, and fans can get excited that they’ve got a reliable wideout coming back for the 2024 season. 

Another wide receiver returning is explosive first-year wide receiver Kenny Johnson, who announced his recommitment to Pitt for his sophomore year. Johnson found himself steadily involved in the Panthers’ offense with 15 receptions for 122 yards, a receiving touchdown and a kick return touchdown as a first-year player. A player with Johnson’s skillset and three years of eligibility left is attractive for any offense. Notably, the day before Johnson’s announcement, Narduzzi announced Western Carolina offensive coordinator Kade Bell, who led the No. 1 passing attack in the FCS, as the Panthers’ next offensive coordinator. 

Another surprising and exciting announcement came from junior running back Rodney Hammond Jr. Hammond was the lead back in the Panthers’ offense this season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry with four touchdowns. Hammond announced in December that he was returning for his senior year. 

Hammond started the 2023 season on the watchlist for the Doak Walker Award, the award for the nation’s best running back, and looked to follow in line with other legendary Pitt running backs such as James Conner and Israel Abanikanda in recent years. While Hammond split carries with senior running back C’Bo Flemister, he still had a productive year and is looking to add to it with his new offensive coordinator. 

In the trenches is the duo of tackles in junior left tackle Branson Taylor and first-year right tackle Ryan Baer, who announced their return on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6, 2023, respectively. Baer, the 6-foot-7, 330-pounder found himself in the starting lineup after a season-ending injury to senior offensive lineman Matt Goncalves — who had not allowed a sack since 2021. Despite the large role to fill, Baer did well enough to make his return very exciting for the Panthers’ offense and whomever their QB may be. 

Taylor, who has become an ironman for the Panthers, has only missed one game due to injury over the last two seasons. This last season was the last for senior offensive linemen Jake Kradel and Blake Zubovic, giving Taylor room for an increased role.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers had several players enter the transfer portal not long after the season ended. However, the trio of linebackers first-year Jordan Bass, junior Soloman DeShields and senior Brandon George decided to exit the portal and stay in Oakland for the 2024 season.

DeShields was the most productive of the three, with 27 solo tackles and two sacks.

First-year linebacker Braylan Lovelace found himself next to DeShields often throughout last season, but his recommitment has not been announced. 

A duo of defensive linemen are spending their senior seasons in Oakland with senior Nate Temple and senior Dayon Hayes announcing their excitement to return for the 2024 season on Dec. 10, 2023, and Dec. 4, 2023, respectively. Temple recorded 1.5 sacks and Hayes recorded four sacks, a forced fumble, and four pass deflections. Hayes played in all 12 games last season for the Panthers, with a two-sack day against Boston College. 

Possibly the biggest returner for the Panthers in 2024 is junior safety Donovan McMillon. McMillon recorded 105 total tackles for the Panthers in 2023, with a forced fumble and a pass deflection to go on top of that. Against West Virginia, McMillon led all players with 18 tackles. 

McMillon, a Pittsburgh native, brings elite tackling skills with simultaneous good instincts in zone coverage. Alongside him comes sophomore defensive back Javon McIntyre, who is also looking forward to the 2024 season as a Panther. McIntyre recorded 85 total tackles and an impressive seven pass deflections last season. 

To round out the defensive back room is junior Phillip O’Brien J., who recorded 41 total tackles, a forced fumble, two pass deflections and three interceptions, including a crucial redzone pick against Boston College late in the third quarter. 

Players, fans and coaches are certainly unhappy with the results of last season. All parties involved are hoping that these key returners can bring Pitt football back to success. With a schedule that seems lighter on paper than this past season, Pitt football wants to use these players as a jumpstart to a good season.

About the Contributor
Conor Hutchison, Staff Writer