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DiPaola: How T.J. Clemmings became a co-captain at Pitt

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Here’s what I mean about Paul Chryst building a relationship with his players:
It was two  years ago and Chryst was coming off the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., after the Panthers had defeated South Florida in the final regular-season game of 2012.
Chryst ran into — or perhaps made a point of running into — defensive end (at the time) T.J. Clemmings, who hadn’t played in the game.
It was then that Chryst first suggested Clemmings consider a move to offensive tackle.
“His uniform wasn’t dirty,” Chryst said Wednesday, recalling the conversation. “I said, `You should think about it.’ ”
He said, `Coach, I’ll do whatever I can for this team.’ ”
Almost immediately, Clemmings started  working on offense during practices prior to the bowl game, and by the spring he had ascended to a starting position. Clemmings struggled with the transition last season, but he started every game. And guess what?
“He’s one of our better players right now,” Chryst said.
Recently, graduate assistant Hank Poteat addressed the team during training camp, he talked about some of the lessons he had learned while playing at Pitt and in the NFL.
“One of the things he talked about was being selfless,” Chryst said, “And you couldn’t have a better example than T.J.”
Which brings Chryst and his team to the brink of the 2014 season when players voted Tuesday night on their co-captains. Clemmings, safety Ray Vinopal and linebacker and special teams whiz Nicholas Grigsby were overwhelming choices, Chryst said.
“They’ve earned it,” Chryst said. “It’s the way they work, day in and day out, how they handle their business on and off the field. I thought the team made a great choice, and if they wouldn’t have, (I) would have made sure it was a great choice.
“It was all them. It was authentic as  it could be and that’s what made it pretty neat.”
Grigsby’s story is another one of growth, starting from his days as a redshirt freshman when he didn’t have the body to play linebacker, but was determined to develop one. Clemmings and Vinopal are seniors, but Grigsby earned his teammates’ respect as a junior who doesn’t start on the base defense.
“You got your best special teams player being one of your best, if not your best, workers,” Chryst said. “He’s that standard that we want everyone to get to.”
Meanwhile, Chryst must deal with the crisis at cornerback after Trenton Coles decided to leave the team this week. Coles is the third young cornerback who will be unavailable this season after Jahmahl Pardner departed in the spring and Titus Howard, who remains with the team, was suspended for the season.
Coles  had appeared to lose his starting job — although in August no positions are locked in stone for the entire season — and he made his decision after practice Tuesday.
Pitt fans may be sorry to see him go, because Coles has great potential — he might have been the fastest player on the team — and the Panthers need the experience at cornerback.
Coles, a junior, played cornerback last season as a reserve, and now Pitt is faced with only one cornerback — Lafayette Pitts — with game experience. Reggie Mitchell and Avonte Maddox have had great camps, but they have not played cornerback in a collegiate game.
Look for Mitchell to start. Eventually, he might be a better cornerback for the Panthers for these reasons:
He’s a great athlete, and everyone who is been around him, including  his coaches at Shady Side Academy and Pitt, believe he has the right mindset and work ethic to succeed.

 

 

 

 

ed and oen fo the
thigns he alkerd baout was bein sellfles and one ofd the great exameles was
“The
he ahd somes growing pains he kind of kept o wrking at it
he;s one of
ouir better playes rihgt now

 
“His uniform wasn’t dirty,” Chr

 

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