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Pitt transfer quarterback Browne says it's 'now or never'

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, March 11, 2017, 4:27 p.m.
Former USC quarterback Max Browne said he plans to transfer to Pitt and enroll for the spring semester.
Former USC quarterback Max Browne said he plans to transfer to Pitt and enroll for the spring semester.
New Pitt quarterback Max Browne started three games for USC last season.
New Pitt quarterback Max Browne started three games for USC last season.
Jeffrey Gamza
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 2: The Pitt football team practices during spring camp at the football complex on April 2, 2015 in Pittsburgh, PA.
Pete Madia
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 2: The Pitt football team practices during spring camp at the football complex on April 2, 2015 in Pittsburgh, PA.
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 2: The Pitt football team practices during spring camp at the football complex on April 2, 2015 in Pittsburgh, PA.
Pete Madia
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 2: The Pitt football team practices during spring camp at the football complex on April 2, 2015 in Pittsburgh, PA.

The skies over Pittsburgh often appear dark and rainy, but Pitt quarterback Max Browne won't mind.

“I'm from Seattle,” he said. “Gray skies don't really faze me.”

New in town, Browne takes Uber everywhere.

“Friendly drivers,” he said. “That's the first thing you notice.”

Weather? Check.

People? Check.

Football? That's yet to be determined, but Pitt must feel like the land of opportunity compared to Browne's forgettable experience at USC.

“Tough time. Not going to sell anything different,” he said of his four seasons with the Trojans. “But you definitely dust yourself off. I'm excited to be here and have one more opportunity.”

Pitt opens spring drills Thursday at its South Side training complex, and the starting quarterback again will be anything but homegrown. Browne is the third transfer quarterback at Pitt in five seasons, following Tom Savage and Nathan Peterman.

Next year, perhaps, Ben DiNucci, Thomas MacVittie and Kenny Pickett — quarterbacks who arrived directly from high school — will compete for the starting job. But Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi enters his third season in win-now mode.

Narduzzi wanted experience behind center, and Browne, 22, didn't travel 2,134 miles from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh to spend his final year of eligibility on the bench.

“It's now or never, backed into a corner,” he said. “I've waited around long enough. I'm ready to go play.”

This is not the way Browne saw his collegiate career ending. He was the nation's top-rated pro-style quarterback and No. 7 overall, according to Rivals.com, when he completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 4,526 yards and 49 touchdowns as a senior at Skyline (Wash.) High School in 2012.

Class of 2013 stars such as Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry of Alabama and Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the fifth overall pick in last year's NFL Draft, were rated beneath him. So were Alabama's Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster, both expected to be first-round draft choices this year. The next quarterback rated after Browne was Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, and he was 24th.

Name a media outlet and Browne (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) was either its player of the year or a member of its All-American team.

USC was another story. He enrolled early in 2013, was redshirted and spent '14 and '15 as a backup. He was named starting quarterback in training camp last year, but was benched after three games that included losses to Alabama and Stanford and a victory against Utah State.

Asked if it felt strange or unfair to lose the job so quickly, he said, “Yes. I would say, yeah, I would say yes.

“I was surprised. I felt like, yes, I could have played better, but didn't feel like it fell totally on my shoulders.”

After he was replaced by Sam Darnold, who led USC to a Rose Bowl victory against Penn State, Browne threw only six more passes and was ready to transfer.

He considered Fresno State, Boston College and Wisconsin, but a phone call from Narduzzi convinced him to enroll at Pitt.

“You could tell he's a guy who loves his team, loves his guys,” Browne said.

Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said Browne earned his outlet's top billing with exemplary play when it counted — in games.

“What we saw was a kid who distributed the ball very well and showed excellent downfield vision,” he said.

Farrell said he thought the speed of the college game, compared to high school, was difficult for Browne to handle.

“You hope he's going to take that next step as things get faster,” Farrell said. “I just don't think he ever did. Alabama, you can quickly lose confidence if you have to go against them in your first start as the guy.”

Browne said his approach never changed at USC, though head coaches often did. He played for four — Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, Clay Helton and Steve Sarkisian.

“When I was in high school, I was the top-rated kid because I showed up and worked hard and did what I needed to do,” he said. “From Day 1 at USC until the day I left, that never changed. For whatever reason, it didn't work out.”

At Pitt, new offensive coordinator Shawn Watson will be Browne's fourth position coach. Browne also will need to get accustomed to huddling up. USC ran the no-huddle the past three seasons.

Browne said he has no preference.

“I got used to the no-huddle, just because you could really get in a rhythm and get a defense on its toes,” he said. “But huddling up and making sure you're on the same page and really looking into your teammates' eyes is crucial as far as camaraderie.”

Farrell said Browne's teammates will enjoy sharing a huddle with their new quarterback.

“He's a high-character kid, a kid who's going to be a leader that a lot of kids gravitate toward,” Farrell said. “Not a rah-rah type of kid, but just a likeable kid who will go out of his way for everybody.”

Will he ultimately succeed?

“I think he'll be moderately successful,” Farrell said. “He's following in some big footsteps (Peterman).

“Do I think he's going to come in and have a tremendous year and be a 35-touchdown, eight-interception guy? That's hard for me to say. But I think they're going to run the ball and put him in a position to succeed.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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