FRISCO, Texas — “I can’t be shy to be myself,” Bub Means told Pittsburgh Sports Now as he sat in the Stonebriar Centre in Frisco, Texas. He’s in town for the Shrine Bowl, a premier NFL Draft event every offseason. It’s, as he described it, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live out his dream. So, how could he be anything but himself?
Means — a 6-foot-2, 215-pound wideout originally from Lovejoy, Ga. by way of Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and finally Pitt — hasn’t always been comfortable being himself. He’s gone through quite a bit during his five seasons of college football, battling adversity at all three of his stops, and he’s learned that sometimes it’s best to be your own biggest fan. If he’s not his own biggest fan, who else will be?
So, especially over the last two years, he’s made it a point to be the one who always has a smile on his face. He likes to speak and speak often, but it will be a cold day in hell when any sort of negativity slips into his vocabulary. Means knows that tomorrow isn’t promised. He tries to be a cheerful person no matter what happens on the field.
And if there’s one thing, he wants to show the NFL this weekend at the Shrine Bowl, it’s who he is. It’s Bub Means, the person.
“I want to show them that I’m more than just a football player,” Means said. “I’m smart. I’m a good person. I want to show them who Bub Means is. On the field, they’ve watched the film, they can get my practice film, so obviously I’m here for a reason, but I want to show them that I’m a good person. I want them to get around me and show them I’m coachable. I’m a good person to be around. I’m a leader.”
Means will spend the weekend, and most of next week, talking to NFL personnel and going through drills and practices with fellow NFL hopefuls before playing in the actual Shrine Bowl on Feb. 1. It’s his first chance to show NFL teams that he is ready to make the jump from the college level to the professionals.
“This year, a lot of my touchdowns came down the field,” Means said. “So, I just felt like I had a great opportunity to show the scouts, show the NFL that I could make plays down the field and create separation down the field and ultimately just get in the end zone and help the team win.
“I’m just out here to prove myself. I always feel like I have something to prove. I always feel like I have something to work on, so I’m just out here to show the scouts I’m a ball player, I’m a competitor, I work hard and I’m gonna get the job done.”
Obviously, the football aspect is paramount. Means, who by all accounts has grown leaps and bounds during his time at Pitt, has to be able to show that he can compete — and thrive — at the next level. And it was certainly an up-and-down experience on the football field during his time as a Panther.
He hauled in 68 receptions for 1,122 yards (16.5 yards per reception) and eight touchdowns during his Pitt career, and he broke out as the leading receiver last season. It was a tale of two halves last season. He caught 41 balls for 721 yards and six touchdowns last season, but 650 yards and all six touchdowns came over the final eight games — averaging 81 receiving yards per game. And after an 11-target, 0-catch performance against Cincinnati in Week 2, many questioned whether or not Means had what it took to cut it at Pitt. He didn’t.
“This is football so at the end of the day, I’m a competitor,” Means said. “So, that game did bother me a little bit, but it didn’t bother me like, it’s gonna shock my confidence. No, I went back to work. That made me want to get better; that made me want to get back in the lab. It made me hungry. I don’t like when everything goes my way all the time because life isn’t like that, sometimes you need games like that to wake you up.”
Means, and Pitt as a whole, had a very tough game against Cincinnati. And there was no instant fix. He had just six catches for 71 yards through the first games of the season. He found the answer though, through three different quarterbacks, he found the answer. He hit the 71-yard mark in all but one of his next eight games.
Bub Means business 💪
What a response from Pitt!
— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) October 1, 2023
It was the realization of Means’ size and speed blend, that God-given talent that finally materialized, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Tiquan Underwood.
If there’s one thing to know about Underwood, it’s how he’s impacted the wide receivers’ room at Pitt over the last two seasons — Means, specifically. If there’s one word to describe the relationship between Means and Underwood, it’s honesty. They were both very honest with each other. Good and bad. But the support never wavered.
Underwood hit on the route running. Means is big and fast, sure. He can run hard. But if he couldn’t run his routes, he’d be useless. So, they worked on that. They worked hard on that. They both knew Means needed to improve. So, they set out to improve upon it. Long days, long nights, working routes. And it wasn’t immediately apparent.
“Coach Wood, we did a lot of tracking the ball, over-the-shoulder catches and stuff like that,” Means said. “After practice, after everybody went off the field, me and him stayed extra. And that showed in the game.”
And there certainly wouldn’t have been a Waffle House Gang without Underwood.
“We wouldn’t even have the same demeanor of the room without coach Wood,” Means said. “He built the confidence in us to make Waffle House, he instilled that confidence — we already were confident as a group, but when your coach is confident and got that swagger about him, it gives you a boost. He built the confidence in the room.”
It was a blessing to have Underwood, a college star and NFL player in his own right, to serve as a mentor. It was a blessing to have the Waffle House Gang blow up like it did. It was a blessing just to have the chance to play at Pitt like he had.
And Means certainly had no expectations when it came to his time at Pitt. He was on his third transfer at that point and just wanted the chance to make an impact. He made an impact, an All-ACC impact, but it was more than that. He wasn’t just a football player. He was a leader, someone who made a difference in the lives of others.
“I just wanted the opportunity to play football at the end of the day,” Means said. “I’m just a football player. I thank God for the opportunity they gave me at Pitt, it just helped me grow as a person. Me and Underwood, that’s my dawg, it’s bigger than football with me and him. He helped me grow into the man I am right now. I was a little bit immature when I got there, coming off the transfer, it was just a weird transition in life, and he helped me get comfortable in my role there and become a better football player and all-in-all a better young man.”
Pitt gave Means the opportunity to compete at the Power Five level. It was the opportunity that he wanted after going from Tennessee to Louisiana Tech, but it goes much deeper than that. He’s a Pitt man through and through.
He’s heard from the likes of Jared Wayne, who is currently working to secure a spot with the Houston Texans, and those conversations have gone a long way. He’s been told to just stay the course. It’s about being where his feet are. And that’s crucial, but it’s about being realistic. And Means has had enough feedback to think he has a legitimate opportunity.
“Persistence can take you a long way,” Means said. “Consistency is good, but if you’re only consistent when things are good — life ain’t fair, life ain’t about the ups, you gonna have some downs, and if you’re not consistent when you’re down — that’s why I learned persistency is the best thing you can have.”
Means showcased a lot of potential down the stretch, serving as one of the best wide receivers in the ACC, and he’s banking on that now as he tries to make the NFL. He has the raw potential. It’s about showing the NFL he can do it now.
“I just felt like I did everything I could in college,” Means said. “And I’m ready to take the next step to the next level. I feel like the feedback I got was decent enough for me to come out, that’s all it was. I’m just betting on myself.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Measured at the 2024 Shrine Bowl: 6-foot 3/4, 222 pounds
HOW DOES HE FIT?
We don’t know what type of scheme the Pittsburgh Steelers will employ on offense at this point, but physical receivers like Means that can play inside or outside are useful in almost any scheme. The Steelers seem likely to move on from incumbent slot receiver Allen Robinson II. His backup, Calvin Austin III is an undersized burner that is great at some things, but not big or physical enough for every part of the job. A bigger, strong receiver like Means could be an excellent complement to Austin.
WHERE WILL BUB MEANS BE DRAFTED?
Means is currently expected to fall just outside the third day of the draft process, but at that point, it largely comes down to team preference. He could be a late Day Three pick or an undrafted free agent.
BUB MEANS SCOUTING REPORT
Nick Farabaugh provided reporting from Frisco.