PITTSBURGH (AP) — Phil Jurkovec committed to Notre Dame as a sophomore in high school back in the spring of 2016, a decision the quarterback described as difficult because it meant choosing the Fighting Irish over the hometown Pittsburgh Panthers.
It was understandable at the time. Pat Narduzzi was still attempting to find his footing entering his second season at Pitt and the Panthers were stuck in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Fast forward nearly seven years, and things have changed.
The former four-star recruit is still looking to deliver on the considerable promise he showed as a high schooler after stints at both Notre Dame and Boston College. The Panthers, meanwhile, have emerged from the pack to carve out a niche near the top of the ACC.
No wonder Jurkovec wanted to come home for the final stop in his nomadic career. He entered the transfer portal shortly after finishing up last season with the Eagles and wasted little time joining a team that finished 2022 ranked No. 22 after a dramatic Sun Bowl win over UCLA, offering proof that the ACC title they captured in 2021 with former quarterback Kenny Pickett wasn’t a fluke.
“I love where (Pitt) is at right now and I just want it to go stronger,” Jurkovec said Wednesday. “That's why I want the (local high school players), anybody who wants to come in the Pitt, come here. Come make it into a consistent, consistent, winning program.”
It's telling of the rise of the Panthers over the last four or five years that former local standouts like Jurkovec, who eschewed scholarship offers from Narduzzi in lieu of opportunities at more traditional powers, now view Pitt as a more attractive option.
Running back Derrick Davis and safety Donovan McMillon grew up within 30 minutes of Acrisure Stadium. Davis left for LSU. McMillon chose Florida. Both, like Jurkovec, enrolled at Pitt this month.
“I feel like Pitt is on the up rise," McMillon said. “They keep going and inching up. I think we have the opportunity to go win and go and do really big things.”
Jurkovec's decision reunites him with Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, who served in the same position at Boston College during Jurkovec's first two seasons with the Eagles in 2020 and 2021, years in which Jurkovec threw a combined 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
That familiarity should give Jurkovec a head start, one Kedon Slovis did not enjoy last fall with the Panthers after coming over from USC. Slovis dealt with injuries early in the year and by the time he was back close to 100%, Pitt had evolved to a run-first team. Slovis transferred to BYU in December.
“I owe a lot of my success at Boston College to coach Cignetti,” Jurkovec said. “He really knows how to coach quarterbacks. So I'm happy to be back in that system.”
Jurkovec explored trying to give the NFL a shot but was advised that he would likely go undrafted due in part to his injury-marred 2022 season and Boston College's 3-9 mark.
While the 6-foot-5 Jurkovec knows there are things he needs to work on if he wants to play anywhere beyond 2023, he also knows helping the Panthers take another step forward would do more good to his potential draft stock than any measurable skill he might have.
“I have experience,” Jurkovec said. “I played on a team that went to the (College Football Playoff). I've been on some good teams, some bad teams and I know the differences (between the two). I want to bring that to those guys that don't know those (differences) yet.”