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May 2, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt’s Rotheram joins the Packers

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Pitt guard Matt Rotheram wasn’t drafted, but he agreed to terms Saturday night on a free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers.
Rotheram, a starter at Pitt since his redshirt freshman season, said the deal was finalized quickly.
“About 30 seconds after the draft,” he said, noting he received offers from more than 15 teams, including the Steelers.
“I stopped answering the phone after a little bit.”
Rotheram, 6-foot-6, 335 pounds, said he visited the Packers before the draft and developed a relationship with their coaches.
“I liked the coaches and I liked the situation with the depth (on the offensive line),” he said.
Also, Pitt safety Ray Vinopal has agreed to terms with the Dallas Cowboys. Tight end Manasseh Garner went to the Kansas City Chiefs and linebacker Todd Thomas to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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May 2, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Clemmings’ draft freefall has many roots

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Quick thoughts on what must have been a frustrating two days for Pitt offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings, who was not picked through the first 99 picks and three rounds of the NFL Draft on Thursday and Friday.
Seems like NFL teams were scared by several things, not the least of which was the freefall itself. As a draft progresses, coaches, general managers and scouts see their rivals repeatedly ignore a player, and they figure, “I can get him later.” Or, they say, “Something must be wrong with this guy, and I don’t want to be the one to find out what it is.”
In Clemmings’ case, the stress fracture in his foot, an injury that didn’t keep him from starting 26 consecutive games at Pitt, was another big factor. Even though he never complained of pain and never went through rehab, according to his agent Mike McCartney.
Clemmings’ uneven play at the Senior Bowl in January, when he moved to left tackle after two years at right tackle, also didn’t help.
So, he enters the fourth round of the draft Saturday, looking like great value for some team. Teams are more apt to overlook what bothered them in earlier rounds when all that’s at stake is a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Clemmings is a superior athlete, who will work hard, stay out of trouble and compete for playing time as a rookie. He would have done that no matter where he was chosen.
The only problem: Falling out of the first three rounds costs money.
ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell tweeted Friday night that Nebraska linebacker Randy Gregory’s fall from 13th overall — where some had projected he might go — to 60th to the Cowboys cost him $8.5 million in guaranteed money.
Clemmings will get a chance to earn back much of what he lost by having a long, productive NFL career.
To put Clemmings’ situation in its proper perspective, though, it should be noted that he never played offensive tackle in a game until September, 2013, and he spent the better part of that season merely learning the position. He never played football until his junior year of high school.
NFL teams had a hard time overlooking Clemmings’ inexperience.
Less than 2 1/2 years ago, Clemmings was a little-used Pitt defensive lineman whose draft prospects didn’t exist. Saturday, some NFL team will pick him and pay him more money than some college graduates will earn in their first job.
The NFL Draft of 2015 won’t matter because by that time, Clemmings’ destiny will be back where it belongs — in his own hands.

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April 22, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt’s Narduzzi grew up with the Backyard Brawl

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Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi was part of the ACC football coaches spring conference call Wednesday, and he was asked about his view on renewing the series with West Virginia.
The Backyard Brawl — dormant since 2011 — is in the news again after West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said last week he plans to talk to Pitt officials about scheduling future games.
Narduzzi, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, said he grew up with the Backyard Brawl. His father Bill was a Pitt assistant in the 1960s.
Without getting specific, he said: “West Virginia is a great team in a great conference and we want to play the best. We are always going to schedule the best opponents we can and really embrace future and past rivalries.”
But he also didn’t want to put words in the mouth of his new boss. Pitt is on the brink of hiring an athletic director to replace Steve Pederson, who was fired Dec. 17.
“That’s something the new AD will have to answer,” Narduzzi said. “We will have those conversations when he gets here and with Chancellor (Patrick) Gallagher, as well.”
Gallagher told reporters in January that he supports bringing back the game.
“I would love to see the rivalry be a serious consideration when we put together our non-conference schedule,” he said.
The problem is that West Virginia, which can play only three non-conference games per season after its nine Big 12 dates, doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room. The Mountaineers have two non-conference games booked against FBS opponents through 2021. That leaves little room for another Power 5 game because most schools want to schedule at least one easier opponent.
Pitt operates under the same concept, but its overall situation is different. The ACC commands its teams to play only eight conference games.
“It’s not going to be two years from now,” Lyons told MetroNews in Morgantown, W.Va. “We’re probably looking at 2022 and ’23 to do a home-and-away (with Pitt), but I would love that.”
Pitt has been aggressive in its non-conference scheduling since joining the ACC.
The list of foes includes Penn State (2016-19), Oklahoma State (’16 and ’17), Marshall (’16 and ’20) and Tennessee (’21 and ’22). Plus, the Panthers will play Notre Dame through the Irish’s partnership with the ACC in 2018, 2023 and 2025.
Here are West Virginia’s non-conference opponents for the next 10 years:
2015 – Georgia Southern, Maryland
2016 – Missouri, BYU (in Washington, D.C.)
2017 – Virginia Tech (in Washington D.C.), East Carolina
2018 – Tennessee (in Charlotte), at North Carolina State
2019 – at Missouri, N.C. State
2020 – Maryland, at East Carolina
2021 – at Maryland, Virginia Tech
2022 – at Virginia Tech
2023 – at Penn State
2024 – Penn State
Bottom line is the Backyard Brawl will be back. But the players who will participate are still in grammar school.

The other bit of news from the Narduzzi conference call concerns senior offensive lineman Artie Rowell, who missed spring drills while rehabilitating a knee injury. Narduzzi said he expects Rowell to be “full go” when the coach-less summer conditioning program begins May 10.
Narduzzi said Rowell will compete for playing time at center, where he started 15 consecutive games before his injury Sept. 5 at Boston College, and guard.
“We are going to find a way to get him in there,” Narduzzi said. “Artie, one way or another, competition-wise, is going to find himself somewhere in that guard/center position.”
Rowell’s recovery sets up interesting position battles in August.
Will Rowell, perhaps the smartest lineman on the team, displace center Alex Officer, one of the guards (Dorian Johnson or Alex Bookser) or become a valuable reserve?
In any case, it’s nice to have a little depth.

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April 20, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Voytik’s next project: Organizing spring/summer drills at Pitt

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A college football quarterback’s work is never done, not even in the spring when everyone else is making vacation plans or taking a deep breath from eight months of almost non-stop football and academics.
Such is the case with Pitt’s Chad Voytik, who said his next project is to organize the team for its spring/summer workouts. Per NCAA regulations, coaches aren’t permitted to join the players for these off-season sessions (if a football is in use).
Spring/summer workouts at Pitt will start soon after the end of the winter/spring semester. Commencement is scheduled for Sunday, and you can expect Voytik to organize the troops not long after that.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has put Voytik in charge.
“Within coach Chaney’s offense, he expects the quarterback to organize things and get things rolling,” Voytik said.
At some point this spring, transfer quarterback Nathan Peterman will join the group. Peterman was finishing classes and getting ready to graduate from Tennessee; so, hed did not participate in spring drills at Pitt.
But Chaney will have a near SRO quarterback room this season, with five guys crowding around the video machine. In addition to Voytik, Peterman, redshirt freshman Adam Bertke and sophomore walkon Nate Bossory , freshman Ben DiNucci will enroll after he graduates from Pine-Richland.
I still get the occasional question about whether Peterman can challenge Voytik for the starting job. My response is the same now as it was before spring drills: I doubt it very much.
Voytik is entrenched as the starter, not only based on his productive play in the second half of last season, but also how he goes about his business.
He’s in his playbook constantly and he takes time out of his busy academic schedule to watch video with Chaney on a regular basis. He did the same with Paul Chryst last season.
That fact is not lost on his teammates; in fact, James Conner mentioned it Saturday after the spring game.
Peterman is a talented quarterback with some experience in his background. He started two games at Tennessee last season. But Voytik would have to stumble dramatically in training camp (very unlikely) or get hurt for Peterman to play much this season. Peterman is there as veteran insurance, something Pitt didn’t have before he signed his letter of intent.

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April 19, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Final thoughts and some numbers from Pitt’s spring game

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After several hours to think about Pitt’s Blue-Gold spring game Saturday — what occurred and what it means — here are my takes:
— I thought quarterback Chad Voytik threw the ball well. He completed only 11 of 24 passes for 177 yards, but receivers dropped at least two passes that would have pushed him over 200 yards. His balls had zip, and he played with confidence — even though he’s only had three months and 15 live sessions to learn the new offense.
— I think Voytik to Tyler Boyd will be one of the best pitch-and-catch combinations in the ACC this year.
James Conner has a sore shoulder and didn’t play past the midway point of the second quarter. Yet, when he was in there, he didn’t come off the field, blocking in pass protection and gaining 13 yards on a pass play when the defense seemed to have him cornered.
— Conner is as courageous and selfless as any Pitt player in the past five seasons. His shoulder needs rest. Summer is coming at the right time for him.
— Cornerback Avonte Maddox may have been the best cornerback this spring. At 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, he’s unafraid to mix it up with guys who stand over him and have him by about 30 pounds. Pitt has needed toughness on defense for a long time. Maddox could help bring it.
— Nose guard Tyrique Jarrett, an Allderdice grad, is an intimidating force at 6-3, 335 (his listed weight). He still needs to prove he can do it against ACC opponents, but he led the Gold team with six tackles, three for a loss. There is a short list of City League graduates who have made an impact at Pitt (Curtis Martin and Rod Rutherford come to mind and both were in Highmark Stadium on Saturday), and Jarrett may join them before the end of the season.
— Did anyone notice that tight ends J.P. Holtz and Scott Orndoff had no catches? At 6-5, 260, Orndoff is a nice target and Holtz has sure hands. Maybe I need to watch video with coaches to figure out why they were ignored, but I’m guessing offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has plans for both of them later this year.
— I was glad to hear coach Pat Narduzzi say he wants to bring the spring game back to Heinz Field. Highmark is a nice place, but the game belongs at Heinz where the Panthers play.
Here are a few numbers compiled by Pitt’s stat crew:
Gold rushing (carries/yards)
Rachid Ibrahim – 11/28
Chris James — 9/18
Blue rushing
Qadree Ollison – 20/54
James Conner – 5/11/1TD
Chad Voytik – 4/3
Comment: These numbers surprised me, but perhaps there really is something to Narduzzi saying he wants to stop the run.
Gold passing (Completions/attempts/interceptions/yards/sacks/TDs)
Adam Bertke – 14/30/1/162/1/1
Blue passing
Chad Voytik
– 11/25/0/177/1/1
Comment: Pitt still has a ways to go in trying to build quarterback depth.
Gold receiving – Catches/yards (Receptions/yards)
Zach Challingsworth – 4/79
Chris James — 3/34
Dontez Ford – 2/52
Rachid Ibrahim – 2/3
Blue receiving
Tyler Boyd – 6/112
Elijah Zeise – 1/26
Jaymar Parrish – 1/15
James Conner – 1/13
Jaquaun Davidson — 4 1/9
Comment: The wide receiver depth is better, but still not good enough.
Gold defense
Tyrique Jarrett – 6 tackles, 3 for a loss
Terrish Webb – 5 tackles, 1 for a loss
Bam Bradley – 4 tackles, 3 for a loss
Avonte Maddox – 4 tackles, 2 for a loss, 1 sack
Jevonte Pitts — 4 tackles
Phillipie Motley – 3 tackles
Nicholas Grigsby – 2 tackles, 1 for a loss
James Folston – 2 tackles
Malik Henderson – 2 tackles
Darryl Render – 2 tackles, 1 for a loss
Blue defense
Reggie Mitchell – 6 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Ejuan Price – 4 tackles, 2 for a loss, 1 sack, 2 hurries
Oluwaseun Idowu — 4 tackles
George Aston — 4 tackles
Ryan Lewis – 4 tackles, 2 pass breakups
Justin Moody — 3 tackles, 1 for a loss
Comment: Keep an eye on Bradley and Price. They could be the playmakers Pitt needs on defense.

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April 17, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Who/what to watch at Pitt’s spring game

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Pitt plays its first Blue-Gold game since 2013 on Saturday at Highmark Stadium, throwing the cover off a team that in a lot of ways is a mystery to most people outside the program.
First-year coach Pat Narduzzi closed more than half of each of the 14 practices this spring, a situation that does no favors for media folks, who now must work a little harder to gather information.
Nothing bugs a reporter more than a lack of transparency (doesn’t that go against the Bill of Rights or something?), but at least Narduzzi answers reporters’ questions after every practice. Not every Power 5 coach does that in the spring.
Here are a few things/people to watch Saturday at Highmark:
Chad Voytik, who has grown up mentally and physically. He looks bigger, but I think it’s mostly just the way he stands tall and authoritatively like a quarterback should.
— He’s young, but I have a good feeling about redshirt freshman wide receiver Elijah Zeise. He has the size (6-2, 195) and the perfect low-key demeanor that often leads athletes to success because they are so focused on their job. And there is plenty of opportunity for Zeise and others: Pitt needs help at wide receiver now and in the near future.
— The offensive line has plenty of beef and experience — four of the starting five were in the starting lineup at one time or another last season. And the best and smartest blocker of the bunch, senior center Artie Rowell, hasn’t even practiced yet. Rowell is expected to be recovered from his knee injury later this summer.
— Big nose guard Tyrique Jarrett — 6-3, 335, at the start of the spring — is getting his weight under control, the better to unleash his athleticism. He has been practicing with the first team.
— Pitt needs speed and splash plays on defense. Athletically gifted linebacker Nicholas Grigsby can provide both.
— The Shady Side Academy combination in the secondary, with Reggie Mitchell at free safety and Dennis Briggs at nickel. Coaches have not been shy about praising either player. I’ve been told Briggs has picked up his new position quickly after switching from running back early in the spring.

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April 16, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Rosters set for spring game after Narduzzi conducts his first Pitt draft

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Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi conducted his first spring-game draft Wednesday, allowing his seniors to pick the rosters for the two teams that will compete Saturday at Highmark Stadium.
At first glance, the draft seemed to lean in favor of the Blue team, which selected quarterback Chad Voytik, wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner.
But I don’t expect Conner, who has been plagued by a nagging injury in recent days, to play much. Same with Boyd, who has nothing to prove in an intra-squad game. Voytik may start the game, but Narduzzi will keep him on a short leash, considering the inexperience behind him on the depth chart. Narduzzi said he will have a quick whistle at the ready in case any of his defensive players get too eager.
The Gold team has a nice mix on defense, with defensive tackles Darryl Render and Tyrique Jarrett, senior linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, cornerback Avonte Maddox and defensive end Rori Blair, who led the team in sacks last season. I also think backup running backs Chris James and Rachid Ibrahim could have big days for the Gold, running behind a line that includes three starters, including left tackle Adam Bisnowaty.
A couple of Blue defenders to watch Saturday: cornerback Dennis Briggs and free safety Reggie Mitchell. Briggs, who started this spring at running back, has impressed his coaches with how quickly he is learning his new position. Mitchell is smart and athletic. Both went to Shady Side Academy, a tribute to their coach, former Pitt quarterback Dave Havern.
One more note on the spring-game draft concept. It hasn’t been used at Pitt in my memory, but it’s not new. Narduzzi said his father Bill used it to set up his spring games at Youngstown State four decades ago, and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio also has used it.
“It’s an old-school thing,” Narduzzi said. “Everyone steals from each other and here we are in 2015.”

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April 9, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Mexican coaches visit Pitt, get a taste of Narduzzi-style football

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When Hector Gabriel Salazer Chairez saw how the Michigan State defense responded to Pat Narduzzi, he said, “I have to meet that man.”
Well, he actually said it in Spanish.
Chairez is one of four coaches who are visiting Pitt this week from the Technologico de Monterrey, a university in Mexico City. They are meeting with coaches and observing practices. They will be there through Saturday.
Chairez, an attorney who is the team’s defensive coordinator, said Mexican coaches have visited nearby SMU in the past. But he chose Pitt this year because when he was watching Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, he was impressed with how Narduzzi came onto the field from the coach’s box late in the game to motivate his players.
After Michigan State rallied to defeat Baylor, Chairez contacted Pitt director of development Bob Junko to inquire about setting up a trip to Pittsburgh.
“I am an admirer of coach Narduzzi,” Chairez said. “I was very excited to watch his defense.”
College football in Mexico does not try to groom players for professional football. Chairez said, “Our goal is to make them graduate.”
But they are serious about the sport, playing a 10-game schedule starting in September. There will be a spring game at the end of April.
Chairez was impressed with the tempo of Pitt’s practice. “They are always running,” he said.
Narduzzi took a considerable amount of time from his day — he also had lunch with his family — to meet with the Mexicans and answer their many questions. Chairez called Narduzzi “an honorable man. He has a lot of faith.”
“If you are an honorable man, you can be a better coach,” he said.
The coaches said they hope to come to a Pitt game at the conclusion of their season. Narduzzi, whose brother Bradley is an artist living in Mexico City, said he’s reciprocating the visit next week. Of course, he was only kidding. Two practices and the spring game are on next week’s schedule. But when it was a suggested that a future trip to Acapulco would be nice, he didn’t protest.
———-
Cousins Zack and Mark Gilbert were among a group of 2016 recruits watching practice. Zack, a defensive end from Charlotte, N.C., and Mark, a cornerback from Fayetteville, N.C., are three-star prospects, according to Rivals.com, and both are garnering considerable interest from a variety of Power 5 schools.
The Gilberts also are cousins of incoming freshman Jordan Whitehead, who also visited practice, Pitt junior safety Reggie Mitchell and former Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis. Zack’s father is former Pitt defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, who played 12 seasons in the NFL.
I could be wrong, but there seems to be more recruits at practice this spring than in previous years. In any case, Narduzzi spends a lot of time with all of his visitors after every practice, prioritizing them over his media responsibilities. (I need to talk to him about that.)
———–
Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who held the same position at Pitt under Dave Wannstedt, visited practice, along with former Pitt coach Walt Harris and one of Harris’ trusted assistants, Bryan Deal.
———–
An incredibly loud thunder clap interrupted Narduzzi’s post-practice press briefing, just when he was talking about his team’s intensity. If I worked in the Pitt marketing department, I would save the audio for the next TV/radio ad.

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April 7, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt players `fighting through the smoke’

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Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is not surprised when he sees bad plays at practice. (After all, he was at the Armed Forces Bowl.)
But he almost welcomes them during spring drills because it gives him a good indication of the type of players on his team.
“There are ups and downs,” he said Tuesday after the 10th day of practice (four to go).
“We have to teach our kids to fight through the smoke at times. It’s how you react off those ups and downs that makes a man out of you.”
It’s tough to gauge how the players are practicing when they line up 11 on 11. The media continues to be ushered out after about 30 minutes of seeing little more than warm-up calisthentics, kicking and punting and position-specific drills.
But players have indicated during multiple interviews that there is more pressure and increased demands put on them by the current coaches, compared to the previous staff.
“You sit up straight when he comes in the room,” All-American running back James Conner said of Narduzzi.
I don’t remember a Pitt player ever saying that of his coach over the past four seasons.
I asked Narduzzi if he believes the players feel more pressure this year than in the past (an unfair question).
He didn’t want to comment on how the previous staff operated, but he did admit that his basic philosophy is to challenge his players.
“Of course it is,” he said. “You better put the demands on them. The demands will be there later on in September so you better put them on now to see what they do.”
It’s clear Narduzzi won’t settle for mediocre effort or results. That’s not to imply that Paul Chryst was OK with mediocrity, but I get the feeling there will be a stiffer price to pay this year.
Narduzzi also believes that the multiple nature of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s offense eventually will help the defense.
The offense will line up in a pro, pistol and shotgun formations and run plays at various tempos.
“We are very multiple on offense right now,” he said. “For a defensive coach, there couldn’t be a better dream.”

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April 6, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Ex-Tennessee defensive end considers Pitt as transfer destination

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Defensive end Dewayne Hendrix, a former four-star recruit who is transferring from Tennessee, said Sunday night he will choose a new school from among Pitt, Iowa State and Northern Illinois.
During his second visit to Pitt on March 28, he watched practice and visited with coaches. He has scheduled visits to Iowa State on April 10 and Northern Illinois on April 24. He said he will make a decision not long after his final visit.
“I liked everything about Pitt,” he said. “How they practice, how they get after it, some of the schemes they run on defense. It was really intense.”
Hendrix, 6-foot-5, 258 pounds, was one of the most coveted strong-side defensive end recruits in the nation at O’Fallon (Ill.) High School in 2014. He was ranked fifth at his position in the nation (first in Illinois), according to Rivals.com. He had 22 scholarship offers, including Michigan State (where Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi was defensive coordinator), Illinois and seven other Big Ten schools. His connection to Pitt is through tight ends coach Tim Salem, formerly an assistant at Illinois.
Hendrix, who will sit out the 2015 season per NCAA transfer rules and have three years of eligibility remaining, played in seven games for Tennessee, recording two tackles, last season.
“I am transferring mainly for a better opportunity,” he said.
He said he didn’t like the Tennessee defensive scheme in which defensive ends line up inside the opposing tight end.
“It was like playing defensive tackle,” he said. “I like being on the edge.”
At Pitt, he would be used as an edge rusher.
O’Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst said Tennessee coaches wanted him to stay.
“At O’Fallon, he was a very hard worker who gave tremendous effort on the field,” Joggerst said. “He was a great teammate. A very humble kid with a high motor.”

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