Back on signing day for 2015, the hope was Jordan Whitehead could be an instant impact player his freshman year. Rivals had ranked him a 4* recruit, the #1 player in PA, the 6th best cornerback, and the 75th best player in the country. Many expected Whitehead to challenge for starter at cornerback, but instead Whitehead got his first snaps for Pitt at safety. Even in training camp, the coaches seemed to really like Whitehead's potential. Conklin commented he always seemed to be near the play even if didn't necessarily make it.
"Jordan did really good. We always talk about defensively whether you can feel a guy or not and I think we could definitely feel him. He’s not 100 percent on his assignments or execution, but you can feel him. He’s going to make plays. He can cover a lot of ground, he’s very athletic and he’s very explosive. One time, he came from the opposite hash playing the boundary safety and made a play to the field that not many guys can make. Our whole deal with him right now is getting him reps and throwing him to the fire and seeing if he can get there."
Whitehead started out the season in a position battle with Pat Amara and Jevonte Pitts for the starting strong safety position. In the YSU game, he basically played every third down and tallied 3 solo tackles. At Akron, he played more snaps and garnered 5 tackles and a half sack. At Iowa, he essentially played the whole game and finished with 15 tackles (7 solo). He has been the entrenched starter from that point on, and tallied 5 tackles versus Virginia Tech and 12 this past weekend versus Virginia. The coaches made Whitehead earn the starting position, and he hasn't skipped a beat since. Whitehead is currently Pitt's leading tackler, and is tied for ninth in the ACC with 8.4 tackles per game. Whitehead is the only freshman in the conference's top 24 tacklers. He was honored after the Virginia game by being named ACC Rookie of the Week
Whitehead is roughly 5'11" and 185 lbs, but he certainly looks much bigger than that, both in appearance and the way he hits. Whitehead might be one of the most physically well-built freshman I've seen in a long time. He has bulk, but knows how to move quickly to get where he needs to be. As Conklin noted in preseason camp, Whitehead always seems to be around the ball. Conklin will note Whitehead still makes mistakes, but Conklin is very high in his praise for his young safety
"He’s still not doing everything perfectly," defensive coordinator Josh Conklin said. "He still makes some freshman mistakes, but he had a heck of a game on Saturday and doesn’t miss very many tackles.
"A lot of what he’s doing right now has nothing to do with coaching or anything like that. It’s because he’s a talented football player."
"Sometimes when you recruit those highly recruited guys, you don’t know how physical he’s going to be," Conklin said. "There’s no question he’s a physical guy and he likes contact. He’s a football player, a real football player, which is exactly what we thought we were getting."
He's an extremely humble and well spoken kid as well. You can tell he's still getting used to being interviewed every other day, but he smiles and answers questions as best he can when they do come. Pitt fans don't have any worry about where his head will be at as more and more people around the country notice his talent.
"I just kind of let it go past my head," he said. "Just stay humble and try to keep [remembering] that you can always get better.
"When the season’s over, we can talk about all the individual stats, but first off I’m going to worry about the team."
Jordan Whitehead is exactly the player Pitt desperately wants in its program. Whitehead is a talented guy who had offers to pretty much everywhere in the country, but he decided to stay and help to build his hometown team. Many players before him have done that but that doesn't mean he'll get lost in the long list of those players. Pitt as a program has proven it can get players to not only the next level, but help them be elite in that arena as well. People around Pitt already know his name, and fans of other teams around the ACC are starting to as well. The most exciting part is this is just Whitehead's first year. His potential under Narduzzi's and Conklin's teaching has a really high ceiling. Whitehead is the highest rated recruit Narduzzi has coached in his secondary before. Narduzzi also mentioned in his radio show last night that Whitehead has been taking some snaps on offense. Pitt could certainly use another playmaker on the other side of the ball if Whitehead is willing to play both ways in a game.
The Pitt staff hopes that local recruits in the area, especially guys like Damar Hamlin, Miles Sanders, Khaleke Hudson, Kazeon Pugh, Aaron Mathews, Paris Ford, etc notice the success guys like Whitehead (and obviously Tyler Boyd) have had in their hometown. Pitt can't rely solely on the WPIALs best to build their team, but it's a hell of a good start to build on as guys like Whitehead, Boyd, and many many others have shown.