Wayne seizing opportunity
Jared Wayne hauled in four passes for 30 yards in Pitt’s 34-27 overtime win over North Carolina last week. The true freshman receiver from Ontario used his size and athleticism to become part of the offense and made himself an extra weapon for quarterback Kenny Pickett to have at his disposal. Looking into the future, Wayne has the makeup of a player that can contribute to Pitt’s offense for the rest of this season and beyond.
The question in all of this is: How?
How did a true freshman from Canada, that only had one year of experience playing wide receiver, with just four scholarship offers find his way into becoming one of Pitt’s most important offensive players last Thursday?
If you ask the Pitt coaches, they’ll tell you it should have happened sooner than the 10th game of the season.
“He had the little injury that set him back for a couple weeks, but I was expecting that really after the Duke game,” wide receivers coach Chris Beatty told reporters on Tuesday. “I thought he would have a chance to make some strides and obviously this time he’s finally healthy and he’s finally ready to make some plays. I think he’s been waiting to kind of breakout.”
Wayne has seen some playing time this season, even dating back to Pitt’s season opener against Virginia, and as Beatty noted, he caught a pass against Duke, and he was slowly working his way towards a role on offense, but an injury set him back. Although it was another injury that propelled him to playing time last week.
Pitt’s leading wide receiver Maurice Ffrench was unavailable for the North Carolina game with a jaw injury, so Wayne made the most of his opportunity and found his way into some extended playing time and responded with some big plays. Playing in the game also lifted his potential redshirt for the season as well, but the Pitt coaches felt as though they needed him.
“He was a little nicked up for a few weeks and we didn't know if he'd get back to get that fifth game in,” Pat Narduzzi said of Wayne. “And then when Maurice got banged up a little bit, it's like this guy has got to go. He's our next best option.”
Beatty said this moment has building since fall camp. Wayne seemed to take to coaching right away, and his ability to pick up the offensive system at a fast pace put him in this position to play.
“In the summer during camp, I realized he was a lot better than maybe I thought he was or ahead of that,” Beatty said. "He moved ahead of some guys that I didn’t foresee that happening during camp.”
Beatty admitted he thought Wayne would likely redshirt, but some injuries and his ability to impress the coaches kept him in the mix for playing time. For Wayne, Pitt hasn’t had to bring him along slowly or have special packages for him, he just knows the system like an upperclassmen.
“A lot of people think that you’ll just go out there and do your thing, but the verbiage of a system especially ours where you run a lot of different things, a lot of different formations, it’s hard,” Beatty explained of true freshmen getting playing time. “Everywhere where I’ve been with the really successful freshmen were guys that you had packages for, like Tavon Austin you had a package for him and then you built it as the season went along, but it’s hard for a guy to just say, ‘OK I’m going to learn the X’ and all the things that go in it and it’s not a package it’s a full playbook, that’s hard to do.”
Part of the knowledge may have come from Wayne’s former position. He was a high school quarterback growing up in Ontario. He played wide receiver in 7-on-7 competitions. The tapes of him playing 7-on-7 caught the eyes of the coaches of Clearwater Academy International in Florida.
One thing led to another, and Wayne opted to play his senior season at the upstart private school in Florida. He starred as a receiver for one season and caught 61 passes for 1,157 yards and 14 touchdowns. Wayne committed to Pitt prior to his senior season, but the big numbers didn’t draw him any added attention. He chose Pitt over offers from Bowling Green, Old Dominion, and South Florida.
Despite not being a heralded recruit, Wayne credits his maturity and willingness to learn to finding a role in his freshman season.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Wayne said of when he got to Pittsburgh. “I just figured I’d come in here and do whatever I can to get on the field, whether it be on offense or special teams - anything. So I came in here with an open mindset and just gave it everything I had.”
Perhaps moving away prior to college gave him a jumpstart on acclimating to being away from home. Beatty wasn’t sure if playing away from home as a senior helped or not, but he does believe in Wayne’s mature outlook.
“He’s a real mature kid, I mean he’s 18-19 going on 28-29,” Beatty described of Wayne. “He’s really mature beyond his years, but I’m not sure how much that helps or hurts.”
Wayne credits his school prior to Clearwater that helped shape him as a player and person.
“Being at Trinity College, a well-known school in Canada academically, just the environment there had a big change on who I am as a person for sure,” Wayne explained. “It’s very professional, it’s a private school, so there’s a lot of high expectations there and really helped how I was molded these past couple years. I give a lot of credit to my parents as well and my family for keeping me in a great environment growing up.”
It’s still early in Wayne’s career. He has just five catches, but Thursday looked to be a breakout for him and it was everything he was hoping it would be.
“It’s a dream come true,” Wayne said of contributing in a meaningful game. “Growing up as a kid every football player dreams of making plays on the big stage, so it was great being out there. I’m just enjoying every moment of it.
His attitude and work ethic appears to have caught the eye of some teammates as well.
“He’s one of the boys that I hang around with a lot,” Shocky Jacques-Louis said. "I hosted him when he came here and made him feel like family so when he committed like I knew what kind of relationship we was going to have. He’s a real cool dude, hard worker too.”
Added cornerback Jason Pinnock on Wayne, “I like Jared. When he first came in, there’s always those freshmen that separate themselves that want the coaching, they’re not still in - I call it their 'recruiting high.’ He came in humble and that’s why he’s in the position he’s in to help us win.”