Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi welcomes 110 players to the start of training camp
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi welcomed 110 players to the first day of training camp Friday on the Beano Cook practice fields on the South Side.
It’s a new season, but the first day didn’t look much different than any of the previous four first days under Narduzzi, who has been Pitt’s coach since the day after Christmas, 2014. He’s been in his post longer than any Pitt coach since Dave Wannstedt, who’s been gone almost a full decade now.
With temperatures climbing through the 80s, players trudged slowly onto the field, conserving as much energy as possible. Narduzzi addressed the team briefly before everyone scattered into their position-specific groups. A similar scene will be repeated almost daily through November.
Missing from the team this year is late scratch Jake Scarton, a walk-on sophomore who was the first-team holder and backup kicker last season. He put his name in the transfer portal after last season, but he participated in spring drills and was included in Pitt’s media guide that was distributed in July.
That may sound like an insignificant absence, and it is on Aug. 2. But when Scarton missed the Penn State game last year with an injury, backup holder Kirk Christodoulou, the first-team punter, struggled in that spot.
No word on who gets first crack at the holder’s job. Quarterback Kenny Pickett and senior wide receiver Kellen McAlone, who has graduated, did it in practice last year.
There is a Scarton on the team, however. Jake’s brother Sam is a backup kicker.
Speaking of family, senior safety Jazzee Stocker’s brother Brassir is a walk-on defensive back. And Joshua Junko, a walk-on wide receiver, is one of eight grandchildren of Pitt’s director of player development Bob Junko, who celebrated his 73rd birthday on the Fourth of July.
Junko has served six Pitt coaches in jobs ranging from defensive coordinator under Foge Fazio in the ’80s to recruiting coordinator to his present position in which he is a vital link to high school coaches and players. You won’t meet a better man on Pitt’s campus.
On special teams, Maurice Ffrench, Taysir Mack, Paris Ford (Steel Valley) and John Vardzel (North Allegheny) were catching punts from Christodoulou on Friday morning. It was interesting to see the returners start on their bellys as the football leaves the punter’s foot, scramble to their feet, find the ball and catch it.
Of particular note is the offensive line where graduate transfer Nolan Ulizio (Michigan) was working at right tackle, moving Gabe Houy (Upper St. Clair) to guard. That‘s a switch from the preseason depth chart, but not a surprise. Both players can line up at either guard or tackle, and line coach Dave Borbely wants as much versatility as possible from his linemen.
Borbely and his unit have a lot of work to do, with only center Jimmy Morrissey returning from the line that started last season.
The opener is four weeks from Saturday, so much of what reporters saw during the 30-minute open practice window will change. If it doesn’t, coaches aren’t doing their jobs.
The fifth quarterback in camp is walk-on Eli Kosanovich, who led Aliquippa to a 16-0 record and PIAA championship last year. He joins Pickett and his backups Nick Patti, Jeff George Jr. and freshman Davis Beville. Jake Cortes (Peters Township) has moved to tight end, and Justin Sliwoski (Hempfield) has transferred to St. Francis (Pa.).
Thank you Pittsburgh! Looking forward to the new opportunity! pic.twitter.com/8AS5mT2b5K
— Justin Sliwoski (@jsliwoski11) August 2, 2019
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .