Before becoming NFL Draft star, Kyle Pitts clashed with WPIAL champion in Hershey

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Thursday, April 29, 2021 | 7:35 PM


If tight end Kyle Pitts is the first non-quarterback selected Thursday night in the NFL Draft, Gateway football coach Don Holl won’t be surprised.

Four years ago, Gateway was tasked with stopping Pitts and his Archbishop Wood teammates in the 2017 state championship in Hershey. Pitts, then a senior committed to Florida, was impossible to ignore.

“You watch film and you think guys are good, but you never know just how good because you’re not playing against the same people,” Holl said of his team’s pregame preparation. “We went into that game that night and we couldn’t block him and we couldn’t defeat blocks that he was involved in.

“He was a man that night.”

At Florida, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound junior earned unanimous All-American honors this past season and was the first tight end in 43 years to finish in the Top 10 in votes for the Heisman Trophy. He ended his college career as Florida’s record holder for receiving yards by a tight end.

NFL mock drafts project him going as high as fourth overall to the Atlanta Falcons.

“There have definitely been some good players in the WPIAL, and I don’t want to discredit anybody, but it’s pretty obvious he’s a special talent,” Holl said. “Clearly, if he’s not the best, he has to be among the top one or two guys we’ve lined up against at any point.”

At Hersheypark Stadium, Pitts made two interceptions from his defensive end spot and had a touchdown catch on offense as Archbishop Wood won, 49-14. But his ability to control the line of scrimmage sticks with Holl.

The Philadelphia Catholic League power leaned on its oversized linemen that night, letting running back Nasir Peoples, now a defensive back at Virginia Tech, rush for 266 yards and four touchdowns.

As a team, Wood rushed for 459 yards on 57 carries.

“They were so physical on the edge,” Holl said. “They were running power and down-blocking our defensive end, kicking out our outside backer.”

As a pass-catcher, Gateway didn’t do anything unusual against Pitts since Wood’s passing game wasn’t focused on creating mismatches. But the Gators added help on his side of the line to support the edge wherever he was.

His two interceptions captured his physical and mental talents, his ability to read and react in elite ways.

The first was on a screen pass.

“He recognized the screen, retreated and picked it off,” Holl said. “The other one, we tried to roll out one way and throw back the other way. He read it, saw the backside, turned around and picked it off. Those are just plays you don’t expect anybody to make and nobody ever does make.

“And then an even better eye gouge is they ran the exact same throwback to him for a touchdown pass and we didn’t pick it off,” added Holl with a laugh. “They said, ‘No, this is how you actually run this play correctly. Watch.’”

Rivals ranked Pitts as a four-star recruit in high school. He chose Florida from a scholarship list that also had Alabama, Georgia, Miami (Fla.), Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Pitt, Wisconsin and others.

Holl said he’d casually kept track of Pitts in the years since, curious where his career might go.

“You kind of pay attention to see if he’s going to do anything in college,” Holl said. “Obviously he just skyrocketed while he was down there in Gainesville.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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