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'Crazy journey' leads QB Ricky Town from top recruit to Pitt backup

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, 8:50 p.m.
Pitt quarterback Ricky Town goes through drills during practice Aug. 3, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Ricky Town goes through drills during practice Aug. 3, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Pitt quarterback Rocky Town was highly regarded coming out of high school. Town originally committed to Alabama.
Pitt quarterback Rocky Town was highly regarded coming out of high school. Town originally committed to Alabama.
Pitt quarterback Ricky Town goes through drills during practice Aug. 3, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Ricky Town goes through drills during practice Aug. 3, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

The first sentence in the ESPN.com story about Ricky Town’s verbal commitment to Alabama in 2013 said, “The rich just keep getting richer.”

Town was a junior at St. Bonaventure (Calif.) High School at the time, the No. 2-ranked pocket passer in his class, according to ESPN. In three years as a starter, he threw 76 touchdown passes.

But Town de-committed from Alabama after offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier left, and he signed closer to home with USC. He was in the same 2015 recruiting class as Sam Darnold, who flourished as a Trojan and became the third overall selection in this year’s draft by the New York Jets.

Town never played at USC, however, before transferring in the summer of his freshman year to Arkansas. He spent two seasons with the Razorbacks, and never got in a game before returning home last year to California and Ventura College. There, he finally found success, albeit on a junior-college level, throwing for 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Now, he’s at Pitt — his fourth school — working as the backup quarterback to Kenny Pickett. Town brings with him two years of immediate eligibility.

If you think the backup quarterback job at Pitt is an insignificant position, you haven’t been paying attention. Since 2013, four of them — Chad Voytik, Nathan Peterman, Ben DiNucci and Pickett — eventually became starters.

Town, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, said his collegiate odyssey has been “a crazy journey.” But he preferred to dwell on the short story of how he arrived at Pitt, getting a phone call and an invitation for a visit from offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.

“I could just tell it was different,” Town said of Pitt. “Coach Watson and coach (Pat) Narduzzi, you could tell they’re teachers. I wasn’t going to just be another body. I was going to learn football here.”

Watson conducts quarterback school for his seven-member group, including Pickett, Town, four walk-ons and freshman Nick Patti. To hear Town talk about those classroom sessions, it may be his favorite part of being on the team.

“You would think it’s all about the offense,” Town said. “We spent a month just talking about defense, just about the defensive fronts.

“(Watson) takes pride in teaching defense first, We’re not just out there running plays for no reason. He tells us why, so you understand.”

Backing up Pickett doesn’t seem to be a problem for Town, 22, who is two years older than Pitt’s starting quarterback.

“He’s the man. Kenny’s awesome,” he said. “I’m learning a lot from Kenny. I have a great example to learn from him.

“I’m excited to watch what Kenny does, and I’m ready to go in (when) whatever happens.”

Town has a friend on the team, tight end Will Gragg, also a former Razorback, who transferred after Town already had enrolled.

“That’s my dude,” he said, noting they developed a connection on Arkansas’ scout team. “I’d always throw it up to him, and he’d come down with the ball.”

Pickett is the starter, so the competition at quarterback is centered on the backup battle between Town and Patti. Town got an early start on the competition, participating in spring drills while Patti was finishing up high school.

But Narduzzi said Patti “doesn’t look like true freshman.”

“He has a little swagger to him. He still doesn’t know what he’s doing half the time, but he makes some plays with the ball. He’s fun to watch.”

Town and Patti are wearing the same number (12) in practice, but Town said he doesn’t know who will keep it when the season starts.

“Everyone’s asking that,” he said. “I don’t know. We’ll see. The good thing is we won’t be on the field at the same time.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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