Son of ex-NFL QB, Pitt’s Jeff George Jr. embraces backup role, wants more |

Son of ex-NFL QB, Pitt’s Jeff George Jr. embraces backup role, wants more

Jerry DiPaola
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt’s Jeff George Jr. has earned the top backup job behind Kenny Pickett.

Jeff George Jr.’s football team was a hit in Carmel, Ind. Fans flocked to the games. He was the talk of the town.

“When you throw the ball 40, 50 times a game, it’s a sight,” said his coach at the time and father, Jeff George Sr. (yeah, that one).

“Shotgun formation, motions, three wide receivers, four wide receivers, empty backfield. I don’t think we had a run play in the offense. He could throw ball 40, 50 yards.”

Did we forget to mention the rest of the story? Jeff George Jr. was in the fourth grade.

Now, more than a decade later, he’s a Pitt quarterback after transferring from Illinois by way of Michigan last August and seizing the backup job to Kenny Pickett almost immediately.

His dad has a bias, of course, but he said his son knows the game much better than he did while throwing for 27,602 yards over 12 NFL seasons.

“At this point he’s kind of passed me up,” said George, the No. 1 overall draft choice by the Indianapolis Colts in 1990.

“He’s been a student of the game for many years, being thrown into the mix as a freshman at Illinois, first start at Michigan, playing the Wisconsins and Ohio States of the world. He’s prepared.”

Want another opinion from someone not related to him? Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who has known and worked with George Jr. for less than a year, likes what he sees.

“What I like about Jeff, when he makes a mistake he knows it right away,” Whipple said.

“I don’t have to tell him. He understands. He studies. He’s made some really good throws, good reads.”

George Sr.’s ticket to NFL fame was a strong throwing arm. Neither father nor son wanted to compare arm strength, but George Sr. is impressed.

“We don’t really like to get caught up in the comparisons,” George Sr. said. “It’s not something a father and son like to do.

“When he’s given an opportunity to throw the ball, he makes the throws. I sit up there, and I’m amazed, ‘Did he just do that?’

“For a father, that’s just a proud moment.”

George Jr. did nearly match his father in one achievement. He led Warren Central (Ind.) High School to a state championship in 2013 after his dad did it twice 28 years earlier.

Younger brother Jayden, now a preferred walk-on quarterback at Alabama, matched his brother with a state title of his own last year.

“Pretty sure we are the first father-son-son combination to win state championships,” George Sr. said.

George Jr. was thrown into the hot cauldron of college football at Illinois — his dad’s school — when he made his first career start in 2016 at Michigan’s Big House.

Attendance: 111,103.

Final score: Michigan 41, Illinois 8.

At Illinois, he made nine starts and threw for 1,744 yards, 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions on teams that won a total of nine games in three seasons.

He went to Michigan as a graduate transfer last year and spent the summer there before deciding that wasn’t the place for him. He went looking for a new home and connected with former Pitt offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, who forged a relationship with George Jr. when he was at Louisville and tried to recruit him. Finally, George Jr. found the right match.

He knows Pickett is the unquestioned starter, but he’s willing to compete and try to help where he can.

“I support everybody who’s out there, and whatever the coaches’ role is for me, I’ll run with it,” George Jr. said.

“My first start was at Michigan, the Big House. That’s a surreal feeling, and it’s awesome and you want to get back to that.”

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has yet to name the No. 1 backup, preferring to watch George compete with redshirt freshman Nick Patti.

“We’re getting the same reps in the same situations,” Patti said. “It’s definitely competitive between us, but we’re professional about it. I love Jeff. We do a good job of pushing each other. He’s asking me what I see. He’s telling me what he thinks, and I’ll give him the same on plays that I rep and he doesn’t. It’s a good relationship that way.”

No matter how the season turns out for Pitt, this isn’t the end for George Jr. His dad said he has what it takes to knock on the NFL’s door.

“He knows what it takes to get to the next level,” he said. “The NFL is funny. You see a lot of guys who are All-Americans in college and never play in the pros. Then, you see guys who just need an opportunity. You find the right fit and the right system, you can play in the NFL for 10, 15 years.

“I’ve been around a lot of quarterbacks in my time and I would put his mind up there with the best of them.”

For the moment, Whipple is content just knowing George Jr. can run his offense efficiently at Friday’s practice and during Saturday’s scrimmage.

“Jeff’s got a good arm, can make all throws and he can stretch the field,” Whipple said. “That’s why he has a chance to be a good player.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Pitt
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