A weird thing happened three-quarters of the way through the 2019 Pitt football season. A true-freshman Wide Receiver started catching passes. It was weird at first because nobody had ever heard of him. “Who’s number 82?” I remember asking myself at the Duke game when he made his first grab, “dude looks pretty big”. I got even weirder as the season went on because Wayne was actually good at it. Wayne caught 13 balls for 214 yards and a touchdown over the final three games of the season (Virginia Tech, Boston College and Eastern Michigan). Extrapolated over a 13 game season (12 + a bowl) that’s 56 for 927 and 4 TD’s. Them’s 3rd team (maybe even second team if he played for the Tarheels) all-ACC numbers people.)
Of course if you extrapolated every true-freshman contributors top four games over an entire season then Pitt would have won ten games four years ago. Or something like that.
But still, shouldn’t all those receipts have been going to someone a little, oh I don’t know, older? Seems like we’ve been hearing about Dontavius Butler-Jenkins for like seven years now (actually only four, he’ll be a redshirt Junior in 2020…if there is a 2020). Seems like Michael Smith has been everybody’s favorite breakout candidate for just as long.
Well it turns out Jenkins was injured for the final three games of 2019, and Smith , well he played in four games and made one tackle last season as a redshirt Sophomore. So there is that.
We should also, as we are trying to figure out the Jared Wayne issue, take a quick look at all the other wide receivers on the depth chart that might have payed in front of him. I’m showing last year’s “Class” (eg Fr, So) so you can see how much older they were than Wayne.
r-So – Jenkins and Smith as mentioned above.
r-Fr – John Vardzel. Diminutive former walk-on who ostensibly has great hands. “Returned” (i.e. was back to there to catch and not drop) punts in the latter stages of 2019. I honestly can’t remember how he did. Also caught three balls for six yards. He has South Carolina roots, so maybe there is more Hunter Renfrow in him than you think. But lets not hold our breath people, Renfrow caught 32 balls for 492 yards and 5 TD’s his redshirt fresman year at Clemson. While it’s great to see a kid like this get playing time, I’m glad we had a scholarship player on the roster that was better. Even if he was true Frosh.
So – Shocky Jaques-Louis. Another guy that’s seemingly been around forever, and another guy that came on late. Shocky caught 18 balls for 298 yards and two TD’s over the final five games (including the bowl). That’s 47 – 775 – 4 over a full season. By the numbers Wayne’s stats were actually a tick better, but it’s three games versus five and everybody knows Shocky has that Florida speed. Wayne? He’s from Canada. I’m pretty sure we’ve never heard of Canada speed for a reason.
Jr – Taysir Mack. We all know this guy. Super talented when he’s healthy and probably the best contested catch guy to wear a Pitt uniform since Larry Fitzgerald himself. (I’ll stop here and say that I am in NO way comparing Mack’s overall skill set to Fitzgerald, but dang it fellas, Mack does have a knack for coming down with jump balls at some pretty key moments.) The biggest issue with Mack is that he seems to break down midway through a season. Reading between the lines and looking at some tweets from last off season it seems like he might have a foot issue. There is no doubting Mack’s toughness, but I’d be shocked to see him sustain productivity over a full season. (Also for the record he is listed at 6’0, 205. I’m telling you right now he sure as heck doesn’t look like he’s 205.)
Sr – Tre Tipton. Everybody knows this guy too, and everybody (as they rightly should) roots for him to succeed. Sadly, the fates do not and Tipon get injured every. single. year. Caught 7 balls for 81 yards and two TD”s prior to hurting himself during practice in 2019. That would have been 28 – 360 – 8 on the season. (You gotta like 8 TD’s…although I’ll say it’s unlikely Tre would have sustained that pace…but who knows). He wrangled an extra year of eligibility for 2020 so maybe this is the year the football gods will smile.
Fr – Will Gipson. Local guy, also a true Freshman. Would not have expected him to play.
Sr – Maurice Ffrench. Caught 92 balls. Had jaw broken at Georgia Tech game.
Sr – Aaron Matthews. Clairton’s second-favorite son (behind Tyler Boyd of course). Or maybe 3rd if you count LaMont Wade…which nobody should. Matthews has the distinction of having the best arm on the WR Corps, and being involved in not one but two successful trick plays last season (I think he was involved in some razzle dazzle at Syracuse. Pls correct me if I’m mistaken…it’s late and I’m too tired to fact check). Inconsistent hands plagued him all season though and he never developed into the pass catcher many of us thought he would.
So I guess my takeaway is that Wayne played because, well, we really didn’t have anybody else. By the time the Virginia Tech game rolled around, Pitt had no less than four wide-outs nursing injuries. Tipton had been hurt weeks ago, Mack was in a walking boot, Frrench had his jaw wired shut (I’m hyperbolizing here…but we was still out), Butler Jenkins was out. That left Smith, Vardzel, Matthews, Wayne and Gipson left in the fold.
Smith ostensibly wasn’t ready for prime time. (He may never be). Vardzel well…he’s a scrappy kid. Matthews’ consistency problems were well documented by that point, and Gipson was still just a puppy. Add in the fact that Wayne had been impressing in practice and well…the rest as they say is history.
Pitt wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said he thought Wayne would redshirt in 2019. Between Tipton, Ffrench, Mack, Jacques-Louis and senior Aaron Mathews, Beatty’s room was stacked with veterans. Plus, Wayne didn’t enroll early; he joined the program over the summer. So it’s not as if he had ample time to learn Mark Whipple’s playbook.
But Wayne’s play in August camp moved him ahead of a few more established receivers, something Beatty “didn’t foresee happening.” Beatty and the staff decided Wayne would be given the green light in 2019, removing a redshirt from the table.
“Really from the beginning of the year, we knew he had a chance to be pretty good,” Beatty said.
“There are always those freshmen who separate themselves,” junior cornerback Jason Pinnock said. “They want the coaching. They’re not still on their recruiting high. They still don’t think they’re the guy. He came in humble, and that’s why he’s in the position that he’s in, to help us win.”
I’ll spare you the part about where I get all rah-rah about Pitt’s receiving corps this year and the hot incoming freshman, and I’ll point out instead that Pitt got incredibly lucky that Wayne was game ready by the final third of the season. It’s not often a three-star recruit who played only one year of wide-receiver in high school can develop that quickly (he was a quarterback prior). Pitt is going to need more depth this year, because when (not if) Tipton and Mack go down (sorry fellas…and I honestly hope I’m wrong) we are still going to be mighty thin.