Heart of Cardinal and Gold: From YouTube to the end zone, Michael Pittman Jr. always keeps it positive
Michael Pittman Jr. is undoubtedly the face of USC football.
The senior wide receiver is dominating his final season as a Trojan, with 82 receptions and 1,118 yards through 11 games. Pittman is a fan favorite, and at times, his play on the gridiron looks almost effortless.
But things haven’t always come so easy for Pittman. Long before he was stutter-stepping around cornerbacks and avoiding defenders in his way, he was stuttering through sentences and avoiding public speaking due to a speech impediment that’s affected him from a young age.
There have been times in football and his personal life when Pittman wanted to speak up but chose not to because he couldn’t get his words out right. It’s a condition Pittman has carried his whole life.
“I remember him younger, it was way worse,” said Pittman’s brother Mycah, who would occasionally crack light-hearted jokes at Michael about his speech. “He couldn’t even open the refrigerator and turn around and tell you what was in the refrigerator.”
But as he grew older, Michael learned to cope with his stutter and no longer silences himself when he has something to say. He has been forced to choose his words carefully and draw out sentences to stay away from words he anticipates tripping up on, but he has accepted his stutter as something out of his control rather than a flaw.
“It’s tough because you want to say something, but then you stumble up, and people are looking at you like, ‘Wow, this dude’s dumb, he’s stupid,’ or ‘He can’t talk right,’ or ‘He’s weird’ or something,” Michael said. “But I just overcame that. I still stutter pretty good, but I just kind of keep going anyways, and people are just going to have to wait for me to get it out.”
Pittman’s stutter may have affected him on the field and in the classroom — but it doesn’t seem to affect him much on camera.
Pittman’s girlfriend, Kianna Galli, had wanted to start a YouTube channel for quite some time, so about eight months ago, Pittman bought a camera, and the couple started filming. On April 9, the “Michael and Kianna” YouTube channel debuted with a “What’s in the Box” challenge, where the couple tried to guess the contents inside a cardboard box based on sense of touch.
That video — in which Pittman appeared equally as frightened of a teddy bear as did Galli of a cow tongue — was the first of 13 videos (and counting), featuring gameday vlogs, an apartment remodeling with the football team and other clips such as Pittman throwing cheese slices at several of his teammates’ faces.
The couple now has more than 22,000 subscribers, and their Stanford gameday vlog has amassed more than 270,000 views.
Pittman’s teammates are often the subjects of his YouTube content, and they gladly welcome the limelight — even if that requires having dairy products hurled at them.
“Even though I don’t have a ton of subs, all of my videos get pretty good views, so they just want to be on camera,” Pittman said.
Michael and Kianna’s videos often feature guest appearances by Bosco, their cane corso, who has his own Instagram account — which is fitting for someone Mycah unsurprisingly describes as an animal lover.
But of course, any YouTube star and dog whisperer needs his side hobby. For Pittman, that is — you guessed it — football.
OK, it might be a little more than a side hobby. Football, for Pittman, is a family affair: His father, Michael Sr., played in the NFL, and Mycah is a freshman wide receiver at the University of Oregon.
Michael Sr. picked up more than 9,000 yards from scrimmage through 11 professional seasons and won the 2003 Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Still, if you ask Michael Jr. to rank the three of them, he won’t even hesitate to put himself first, Mycah second and his dad last — an order Mycah called “completely false.”
Growing up with two elite football players helped improve Michael’s game, but in the end, it always came back to competition.
“It’s really just me trying to set a high standard for my brother because I can’t let him pass me up, so I gotta do something special this year so I can say that I was better than him in college,” Michael said. “But he still has a lot of time, and he’s doing great there, so I’m just trying to go as high as I can this year so I can hopefully say that I did something that he didn’t.”
Growing up, the two often teamed up together on the gridiron, but when they face each other, the trash talk ensues.
When the Ducks faced off against the Trojans at the Coliseum on Nov. 2, Mycah made his presence felt with a 35-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Though the game was largely out of reach at that point anyway, the play carried plenty of significance.
“I was thinking, ‘Alright, Oregon beat us, but I can say that [Mycah] didn’t score,’ and then bam — he scores,” Michael said. “So all of my trash talk just went out the window, and now I’ve just got to hear whatever he has to say.”
Sometimes, the brothers’ trash talk turns into the silent treatment. Mycah learned that the hard way after Oregon’s 56-24 victory.
“All I wanted was a freaking hug,” Mycah said. “I was like, ‘Dude, you have to give me a hug at the ’SC logo after we beat y’all.’ And he said, ‘Alright, alright, we’ll see about that’ … He ended up not wanting to give me the hug. He jogged straight to the locker room.”
But Michael is never that standoffish with anyone else. He’s known for his kindness and often goes out of his way to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.
Earlier this month, USC Athletics tweeted a video of a boy yelling words of encouragement to Trojan players on their walk to the stadium before calling Michael’s name specifically. The senior, with his headphones on, didn’t notice the kid, but he later saw the video on Twitter.
Michael sent out a tweet calling for help finding the boy’s father. The next day, Pittman personally delivered a No. 6 USC jersey signed by the entire team to the boy’s house.
“I just feel like I’ve been given a gift, and I’ve just been so blessed, so I just want to share that with other people,” the wide receiver said. “I feel like guys sometimes can get that idea that they’re bigger than everybody else because they’re good at football. But really, football’s cool, but it’s more about what type of person you are.”
“I just feel like I’ve been given a gift, and I’ve just been so blessed, so I just want to share that with other people… I feel like guys sometimes can get that idea that they’re bigger than everybody else because they’re good at football. But really, football’s cool, but it’s more about what type of person you are.”Michael Pittman Jr.
Mycah said his brother has been that way his whole life.
“I know when this guy goes to the NFL, what his first check is going to go to is the family and everybody and make sure everybody’s taken care of because that’s just how he is,” Mycah said. “That’s just the character we were raised to be as … He always goes out of the way for others and always believes in good karma.”
Michael’s road to greatness hasn’t been a seamless one. In his first two years of college, he averaged just 6.3 and 36.7 receiving yards per game, prompting his father to publicly call out USC’s coaches and imply that maybe the school wasn’t the best fit for his son.
“That feels like forever ago,” Michael said. “I actually remember talking to him, telling him not to say nothing, that everything is going to work out. He was just trying to protect me, and he was frustrated. I’m glad it blew over, because if I wouldn’t have went out and played well then I would’ve gotten slammed.”
His last two years have been nothing like his first two. He has emerged as a potential early-round pick in April’s NFL Draft and has been a rare constant in a turbulent season for USC.
“I’m so proud for him and the senior year that he’s had,” head coach Clay Helton said. “I couldn’t wish anything better for him.”
This season wasn’t a guarantee, though. After his junior year, Pittman had a choice: stay for one last hoorah or go pro. He decided there was unfinished business at USC.
“There was just a lot more left that I had to do, and there’s still a lot more left that I’m still pushing for,” Pittman said. “I’m still pushing for All-American, still trying to get in that Biletnikoff race [for college football’s top receiver — for which Pittman is a finalist], and who knows what happens then. I just felt like there was more left for me to do because I felt like if I left last year, people wouldn’t remember me here.”
Now, for the final time, Pittman is about to take on the rival UCLA — the school he originally committed to before flipping to USC. Pittman received four offers within three weeks of his junior year in high school. Thinking he had just those to choose from, Pittman decided on the Bruins. Later, more offers came. USC called — and the rest is history.
Pittman went out with a bang in his final high school game, posting an absurd line of 16 receptions for 354 yards and five touchdowns. He thinks there’s an encore in store for his final regular season college game, though it hasn’t quite sunk in that it’s all coming to an end.
“It’s just happened so fast,” Pittman said. “I’m just so blessed to be part of this team and part of this brotherhood that I can’t see it ending.”
Whatever happens in the rivalry game and the following bowl game, his head coach knows the team’s captain will make an impact well after his college days.
“He does everything right,” Helton said of Pittman. “I think there’s a reason that everybody in the NFL is going to love this kid. Whoever gets the guy is getting somebody that’s been trained and is ready for the next level.”
USC is one of the most historic football programs in the nation, and fans certainly celebrate the players that show up on Saturdays. But excellence on the field isn’t the only component of becoming a USC great.
Pittman is living proof of that.