Pitt’s Jaylen Twyman learned by playing free-for-all football on streets
The game is called Throwback Tackle, and Jaylen Twyman isn’t going to lie.
He wasn’t the best at it.
Played on a concrete parking lot or any open space, the game begins when someone throws a football high in the air, behind his back and toward a crowd of 10 players.
A free-for-all ensues, with everyone trying to tackle the guy who caught the ball. The object is simple: To score a touchdown.
Twyman, who started playing the game at age 9 in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 7, was asked how well he played it.
“Not too good,” said Twyman, who has grown into a 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive tackle at Pitt. “I just like to tackle people. That’s it.”
There are no rules, no trophies, but it’s an important bonding exercise that taught Twyman toughness and fueled his desire to play big-time college football.
“When I was young, 10, 9 years old,” he said, “all we played was Throwback Tackle and think about the best college teams in the country, and we always wanted to make it to a D-I school.”
He has made it, escaping the violent streets of D.C. where he grieved after an uncle, Dexter Motley, and older brother, Tayvon Cummings, were killed by gunfire.
Twyman is among a trio of big bodies — Amir Watts and Keyshon Camp are the others — who are expected to rotate along the interior of Pitt’s defensive line this season. Twyman is the youngest of the three, but he has set a standard for the rest of the team, coach Pat Narduzzi said.
“Twyman is playing at a high level right now, maybe as high as you can get,” Narduzzi said. “He’s bigger. He’s stronger (than a year ago).
“Jaylen Twyman is like a gym rat. He’s in the film room as much as the coaches. He studies the game. He has a plan every day.
“That guy’s about as focused as you can get. If you had 110 focused like that guy … It’s amazing, his desire on the field.”
Twyman credits his coaches — Narduzzi, defensive coordinator Randy Bates and line coach Charlie Partridge — for prodding him every day.
But he said his hunger also has roots in his D.C. neighborhood.
“It’s where I come from. Who I grew up around,” he said.
One of his uncles is Oklahoma cornerback Parnell Motley, an honorable mention All-Big-12 selection last season who is only a year older than Twyman. Both attended D.C’s H.D. Woodson High School.
“Growing up, it would be just me and him, and all we wanted to talk about was making it better for our family,” Twyman said.
“It was kind of different. Where I come from, everybody doesn’t think about going to college or not even graduating high school. To come this far is a blessing, and my family always pats me on the back to let me know that.”
At Pitt, every time a coach turns around, there’s Twyman, wanting to watch more video or asking for help going over his notes.
After practice, his routine begins with icing his back.
“That’s what (strength) coach (Dave) Andrews prescribes,” Twyman said. “I eat lunch. I go watch film, and then I go watch film with the team and then watch film again.
“No day is a bad day. It’s always a lesson. If there’s a day where I have to learn some more, I take my time and go over my notes and watch film.”
Twyman has the bulk and athleticism to succeed, but he knows the offensive linemen across from him carry the same thing into the trenches. So he obsesses over the details.
“I’m trying to watch my steps,” he said. “It’s about the small things. I watch it from a big standpoint from the team and then I break it down all the way to me. Am I taking the right steps? Is my strike eye level?”
Only two can start among Twyman, Camp and Watts. But the goal is to provide the same production and penetration into the backfield, no matter who gets sent onto the field.
“I don’t look at it as competition,” Camp said. “I just look at it as us going out there playing together trying to stop the offense from scoring.
“Like Clemson was, they had that D-line they could put somebody in who wasn’t starting and he can go make a play, too.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .