Injuries to seniors give pair of Pitt receivers bigger roles
Jason Pinnock’s eyes lit up when the conversation turned to Jared Wayne, the freshman wide receiver from Canada by way of Clearwater, Fla.
Actually, it was a remarkable reaction from Pitt’s junior cornerback when you consider Wayne has a mere five receptions for 47 yards and has played in only five games.
Nonetheless, Pinnock liked what he saw from Wayne, even before they stepped onto the practice field as competitors this summer.
“That’s my guy,” he said.
So, what’s so special about Wayne?
“He’s 18-19, going on 28-29,” wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said.
Pinnock said Wayne is not a typical freshman.
“There are always those freshmen who separate themselves, want the coaching,” he said. “They’re not still on their college recruiting high. They still don’t think they’re the guy. He came in humble, and that’s why he’s in the position he’s in.”
That position is one of growing importance as Wayne and sophomore Shocky Jacques-Louis assume bigger roles in the Pitt passing game after two seniors were hit with injuries. Tre Tipton was lost for the season with a knee injury, and Maurice Ffrench’s status for the Virginia Tech game on Saturday is unclear because of his broken jaw.
Wayne and Jacques-Louis each caught four passes in the overtime victory against North Carolina.
At 6-foot-3, 190-pounds, Wayne is hard to miss if he’s only walking down the hall. But his long stature is a welcome sight for quarterback Kenny Pickett, too.
“He’s a bigger target, a guy who’s easy to find in the middle of the field,” Beatty said.
Upside is not the concern this week, however. Pitt needs Wayne now, especially against Virginia Tech, which is second in the ACC in interceptions (12). Cornerbacks Caleb Farley and Jermaine Waller have totaled seven.
Wayne’s story is one of not being afraid to seek success the hard way by moving more than 1,300 miles before going away to college.
He attended Trinity College School, a private school in Port Hope, Ontario, for three years before a coach at Clearwater (Fla.) Academy found Wayne’s video on the internet and invited him to visit.
Attending two prestigious schools and growing up with parents who pointed him in the right direction — dad Patrick Wayne was a linebacker in the Canadian Football League — has helped the 19-year-old grow up.
“It had a big change on who I am as a person, for sure,” he said. “That’s really how I was molded the last couple years.”
When Wayne arrived from Clearwater, which also sent defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado to Pitt, Beatty planned to redshirt him.
“But Jared showed early so he could grasp the playbook, which I was a little bit surprised,” Beatty said. “Usually, that’s a mid-year guy who can do that because he’s been through spring. But (Wayne) was able to pick it up pretty quick. It doesn’t happen that often.”
Wayne would have played more often, but a hamstring injury curtailed his progress. He played well against the Tar Heels, but he also let one go through his hands.
Jacques-Louis found the transition from Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Fla., equally difficult but for a different reason.
He was recovering from a shoulder injury when he arrived at Pitt as a early-enrollee in January 2018. He played in 10 games that season, but caught only nine passes for 76 yards. He almost beat that with a 74-yard touchdown reception against North Carolina.
He, too, has learned how to endure the rigors of college football.
“Last year, when I went against bigger DBs, I was kind of intimidated,” Jacques-Louis said. “But this year, coach Beatty was telling me, ‘Trust my coaching and you’ll be fine.’ ”
Jacques-Louis, who checks in at 6-0, 185, said he was losing weight because of the limitations from the shoulder injury. But he doesn’t use it as an excuse.
“I didn’t put enough time into getting my body right my first season, but now that I know what’s going on I’m pretty sure this off-season I’ll be perfect.”
Beatty’s only concern is Jacques-Louis might be too fast. It’s nice when he can run past slower defensive backs, but he needs to control his speed.
“He’s fast, and he knows he’s fast, so he does everything fast. I always joke, ‘Slow down, grasshopper.’ I’m trying to teach him to just be patient (with his route running).”
It probably was no coincidence Jacques-Louis and his outgoing personality were chosen to host Wayne on his official recruiting visit.
“Made him feel like family,” Jacques-Louis said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .