Pitt's Quintin Wirginis 'excited to be back' after injury
Armed with a communications degree and after three seasons in which he played in 28 games and worked his way up Pitt's depth chart, Quintin Wirginis could have chosen to move on.
Be it to pass on a fifth year of eligibility or to pursue a graduate transfer, the Fox Chapel alumnus had options after his 2017 season ended before it started because of a nonfootball injury.
Did he consider anything other than staying at Pitt and playing a redshirt senior season?
“There was no doubt in my mind, I was coming back and finishing here with Pitt,” Wirginis said after Pitt's most recent spring practice this week.
Standing in a ripped and sullied Pitt practice jersey as he spoke from the indoor facility at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Wirginis looked every bit the prototypical football player. It appeared the injury that cost him last season was fully behind him.
“It's the best feeling in the world,” Wirginis said of returning to practice. “You know, I learned a lot this past year, but I am just so excited to be back. It's the time of my life out here. I really feel like I am like a little kid again playing. I love being with the guys. I just love being a part of all this.”
Wirginis was pegged to be starting middle linebacker last season. He came to Pitt three years prior as an unheralded recruit who earned the respect of coaches and teammates via special teams play.
But a dream senior season turned into something of a nightmare for Wirginis. First, in July, was a three-game suspension for a violation of team policy. Then, during the final week of preseason camp, came the undisclosed injury.
“I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason,” Wirginis said. “At the time, I was really upset about it, going into senior year. But I just took it in a positive way, a way for me to grow physically, mentally, spiritually. And I think I have over this past year.”
Now that Wirginis is back on the field, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said he means “a ton” to the Panthers.
“He is just so composed at that (Mike linebacker) spot,” Narduzzi said. “He can make a lot of different calls and get us lined up a little bit better than we were last year. He's a leader, and he's a great communicator.”
Those leadership and communication skills were put to good use when Wirginis was injured.
“He's another coach — and that's not always the case with an older guy,” linebackers coach Rob Hartley said. “He's accepted that role, and when an older guy accepts that role of an extended coach, that's huge.
“It's huge even moreso for his own development because you are learning so much more when you're coaching, and you're teaching younger guys. You're learning how to better yourself. You're asking better questions. So, he's an extreme value as a player and even moreso as an older guy who has accepted a role.”
Wirginis is not guaranteed a starting role because Saleem Brightwell has established himself as a middle linebacker and with Elijah Zeise and Oluwaseun Idowu are returning starters on the outside. But that's more of a reflection of the Panthers' depth at linebacker than it is a knock on Wirginis.
Wirginis will have a significant role regardless — on defense, on special teams, as a fifth-year senior leader, as the proverbial coach on the field.
“I didn't get that initial redshirt, so (last season) was really my redshirt year,” Wirginis said. “And just that whole year of being humbled and watching teams play, watching all these guys that I came through with and play with and being in the film room, being in the weight room (with strength coach Dave Andrews), it's just been a really great period of growth.”