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Steelers

Buccaneers pick Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead in the fourth round

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, April 28, 2018, 1:00 p.m.
Pitt's Jordan Whitehead trots into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter against Syracuse on October 7, 2017 in Syracuse, N.Y.
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Pitt's Jordan Whitehead trots into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter against Syracuse on October 7, 2017 in Syracuse, N.Y.

His phone kept ringing. The texts kept coming.

Friends and family -- about 70 of them attended a draft party Saturday at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott -- were patting former Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead on the back.

That was pretty much the scene in the moments after Whitehead was drafted in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But one text message made him stop and think about his Pitt career.

It was from former Pitt defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill, who joined the Miami Dolphins this year.

“He taught me all I know,” Whitehead said.

Now, both men have graduated to the NFL-- in the same state, too.

“It's a great feeling. The best feeling in the world,” said Whitehead, who said his nerves were put to the test waiting until the third day of the draft to hear his name called.

“Definitely tense,” he said.

After the call came, Whitehead talked to several Buccaneers officials, including head coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht.

Football was only a small part of their conversations. Whitehead can play free and strong safety, but there will be plenty of time to figure out where he'll line up in the Buccaneers secondary.

“I'm really not sure,” he said. “We'll talk business when I get down there. They told me to celebrate now and be prepared for hard work.”

Only 38 months after he was the gem of Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi's first recruiting class in 2015, Whitehead finds himself the 117th overall pick in the NFL Draft.

After graduating from Central Valley, Whitehead's collegiate career quickly peaked in his first year at Pitt when he was named a Freshman All-American and ACC Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was rookie of the week a conference-high three times while setting a Pitt record for tackles by a first-year player (109). In addition, he was named to the ACC All-Academic team.

At only 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Whitehead displayed the toughness to be Pitt's best run defender. Plus, he rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, both in the Notre Dame game.

His sophomore and juniors season were each limited to nine games, however. He broke his arm at Clemson in 2016 and missed the final three games after sitting out the Marshall game previously for undisclosed reasons.

Then, last season, he was suspended for the first three games for violation of team rules.

Whitehead ended up with only three career interceptions -- one each season -- largely due to missing seven games. Plus, Pitt's defense often required him to line up close to the linebackers to help defend the run.

“The Bucs got themselves a really great all-around football player,” Narduzzi said. “Jordan showed the ability to contribute in so many different ways at Pitt.

“He was a safety who could effectively defend both the run and pass, and he was also a dynamic offensive threat for us. We're looking forward to him doing great things in Tampa.”

At Central Valley, Whitehead was ranked the No. 1 high school prospect in Pennsylvania -- ahead of Penn State running back Saquon Barkley -- by Rivals.com.

He also was rated the No. 10 safety available in the draft by Athlon. Steelers first-round safety Terrell Edmunds was No. 11.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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