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September 17, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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Former Pitt QB Congemi: `Hard-nosed football … a lost art’

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Former Pitt quarterback John Congemi said there is value in the ground-based offenses he’ll see Saturday at Heinz Field where he will be ESPNU’s analyst for Iowa/Pitt.
Congemi said Tuesday on TribLive Radio that the Panthers, fourth in the nation in rushing, are more conservative than most teams, and that could be a benefit in many games.
“It’s tough to defend a team that isn’t the norm,” he said. “The norm is throwing 50-55 times a game, spread you out, tempo, pace. When you run up against a team like Pitt or Iowa, you really have to go back to hard-nosed football, which sometimes is a lost art.
“You tell me the next time you see a 7-on-7 in the summertime and somebody tackles somebody. At some point, you still have to tackle. Sometimes, guys shy away from that if they are not used to it.”
Running the football Saturday won’t be easy for Pitt. The Hawkeyes are ranked sixth nationally against the run (65.7 yards).
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz grew up in Upper St. Clair in the 1970s, watching the Steelers build a dynasty of toughness, and he built his own reputation as an offensive line coach.
Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik has thrown only 50 passes in three games, but Iowa is vulnerable in the secondary, allowing an average of 7.4 yards every time the opponent puts the ball in the air. Ask me, it’s time for the shackles to come off the Pitt quarterback.
Coach Paul Chryst said he wants balance in his offense. There is no better time than the present to find it.
One more thought from Congemi. He said a Pitt victory “probably gets them in the top 25.”

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September 16, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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DiPaola: It’s time for Pitt to open up the passing game

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Pitt continues to improve its recognition factor, getting ready to take its No. 33 national ranking (40 points in the AP poll) onto the national TV stage Saturday to play Iowa. The game will be telecast on ESPNU, with play-by-play man Adam Amin and analyst John Congemi, a former Pitt quarterback.
This might be a game to pull the passing game out of mothballs. I expect the running game to remain productive, but only to a point. Iowa is No. 6 in the nation in run defense (65.7 yards allowed per game).
Pitt’s running game is fourth (344.3), so it should be an interesting collision, but what if it doesn’t work? That’s where quarterback Chad Voytik and the passing game need to pick up some slack.
Pitt is ranked 120th of 125 FBS schools in passing (101.3), but coach Paul Chryst needs to know he can count on the throwing game.
“You want to be a balanced on offense because there’s going to be games where you’re going to need to be able to run the ball to win, and there’s going to be games where you need to throw the ball to win,” he said. “You want to be able to trust that and go with it.”
It shouldn’t be as tough as it appears for Pitt to throw the football. Opposing defensive coordinators are sure to leave holes in the secondary while trying to account for running back James Conner. It’s time to take advantage of that.
‘SHAKE IT OFF’
By now, if you have a computer, you’ve seen the “Shake It Off” video, performed masterfully by dozens of Pitt athletes. That includes several football players, who displayed more dance moves than even their coaches believed they had.
If the video doesn’t get running back Isaac Bennett a “Dancing With the Stars” audition, I’ll be surprised. (Is that still on TV?)
By last count, the video had almost 80,000 views. Here’s the link:

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September 12, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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DiPaola: Big victory still would leave cloud over Pitt’s potential

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Other than a loss to Florida International (and what a disaster that would be), a victory Saturday on South Beach would leave Pitt fans as clueless about their team and its potential as they were before the season.
Winning won’t prove anything because FIU has been one of the worst teams in the FBS since its 8-5 season in 2011. The Golden Panthers have lost 21 of 26 games.
It’s probably not much fun for the FIU players, but Ryan Nece has a message for them: Playing on a such a woeful team tests your character and, actually, could provide a memorable (if not joyful) experience.
Nece, who will be the game analyst for the FOX Sports 1 telecast of Pitt/FIU, should know. He concluded his seven-year NFL career in 2008 playing for the winless Detroit Lions, the first non-expansion team to lose every game in a full season since World War II.
“It was probably one of the most memorable learning experiences that I ever had in my playing career,” Nece said. “You learn about yourself, you learn about your teammates, and you learn a lot about people who really love the game.
“If you didn’t love it, it was hard to show up and put in the time and effort.”
Nece, who is the son of Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, did enjoy several winning moments in his career. After starting all four years at UCLA, he was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rookie of the year in 2002 when they won Super Bowl XXXII.
At UCLA, he got a brief glimpse of a young offensive coordinator named Paul Chryst, who was directing the Oregon State unit at the time.
“He would always keep (the defense) off balance with the screen game,” Nece said. “He knew how to use his backs. He is a run-the-ball-first type of guy. He sets you up with play-action and takes a strike. Tyler Boyd gives him the threat to take that strike.”
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chryst take some shots with the passing game after he establishes the run with James Conner and Chris James. Pitt still needs to establish better balance with its offense.
Tough to predict this final score, but 31-3 sounds about right. Not nearly as entertaining as next week’s game against Iowa.

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September 10, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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DiPaola: Roberts and Blewitt have names to remember

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Before he committed to enroll at Pitt, center Gabe Roberts got a scouting report on the head coach from a reliable source — his father Bob.
Bob Roberts was an offensive lineman at Platteville (Wisc.) High School on a team that featured a quarterback named Paul Chryst. Yeah, that one.
“My dad said he was very well-rounded,” Roberts said. “Didn’t go out and have fun. Just did his school work and played football. My dad was the exact opposite.”
Bob Roberts and Chryst won a state championship for Platteville in 1983 before Roberts became a police officer and Chryst followed his father George into the coaching profession.
Gabe Roberts’ recruitment is an interesting tale. Wisconsin wanted him to walk-on, but Pitt offered a scholarship. And now Gabe, a sophomore who has missed time with two shoulder injuries the past two years, may become Pitt’s starting center.
“I’m glad that it panned out that I went to the University of Pittsburgh,” Roberts said.
Chryst has yet to name a replacement for center Artie Rowell, who is lost for the season with a torn left ACL, but Roberts played the remainder of the Boston College game after the injury occurred in the second quarter. Redshirt freshman Alex Officer also is competing for the job, and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said Wednesday that a time-share situation wouldn’t surprise him at all.

NAME GAME
If you were watching “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Monday night, you saw the show’s namesake having some fun with Pitt sophomore Chris Blewitt’s name.
Kimmel showed video of Blewitt hitting a 49-yard field goal against Boston College, but he still insisted that Blewitt’s middle name is Totally.
Almost funny.
Blewitt’s name is an old story. By the way, I have kept my vow to never ask the young kicker about the ironic nature of his name. It’s his name. I’m sure he’s proud of it.
Blewitt is one of the ACC’s best kickers, standing in a tie for second with an average of 10 kick scoring points per game (3 for 3 field goals, 11 of 12 extra points). He was 14 of 18 and 40 of 41 last year, going seven games in a row without a field-goal miss.
Blewitt gave it right back to Kimmel on Wednesday, sending him a photo of himself that says, “Jimmy, don’t blow it.”

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September 10, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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DiPaola: If Pitt/FIU doesn’t make history, Bolerjack and FOX are ready

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Craig Bolerjack knew the little piece of sports memorabilia was somewhere in his office. During our phone conversation Wednesday, it took him only a moment to find it — a piece of rolled-up turf from Pitt Stadium.
Bolerjack, the Emmy-award winning announcer who will call the Fox Sports 1 play-by-play Saturday of the Pitt/Florida International game in Miami, was there for the final game at Pitt Stadium — a 37-27 victory against Notre Dame on Nov. 13, 1999.
“In the final two minutes, fans came onto the field for a piece of turf,” he said. “Officials had to stop play to roll the carpet back.”
I can relate. I was there in June, 1970, for the final Pirates game at Forbes Field, which stood only a few Oakland blocks from the hillside where Pitt Stadium sat for three-quarters of a century. People were actually climbing the left-field scoreboard to scavenge the numbers from the historic structure.
But, excuse me, we’re talking about Bolerjack and Pitt Stadium here.
“I remember walking out of there, thinking,” he said, ” `this place has so much history.
It’s difficult to see an old stadium go down.’  A new stadium smells nice, but there’s nothing like an old stadium.”
Bolerjack asked me if it may be logistically possible to one day build an on-campus football facility at Pitt. I told him not without tearing down a few hospitals and evicting several residents.
(If you care and even if you don’t, here’s where I stand on that old argument: If you don’t tear down Pitt Stadium, you lose The Pete, Jamie Dixon and, most likely, Pitt’s nationally recognized basketball program. You can’t have everything.)
Again back to Bolerjack (lots of digressions today).
He has been behind the microphone for other historic Pitt football moments:
– The last Penn State game at Pitt Stadium (Pitt lost, 20-13, on Sept. 19, 1998).
– The most recent Pitt/Penn State game (a 12-0 Pitt victory at Three Rivers Stadium on Sept. 16, 2000).
– The almost historic game against Virginia Tech on Oct. 28, 2000, when Pitt took a 5-1 record into Blacksburg, Va., and lost, 37-34, on a last-second field goal.
Saturday’s game doesn’t hold the promise of history — unless Pitt loses to the woeful FIU Golden Panthers — but Bolerjack spoke with Pitt coach Paul Chryst and offensive and defensive coordinators Joe Rudolph and Matt House, and all three men are concerned with FIU’s athleticism, especially on defense. Of course, they are. After all, they’re coaches.
Just in case the game is a blowout, Bolerjack said his crew, including analyst and former NFL linebacker Ryan Nece, is ready with some fresh dialogue just in case the score gets out of hand.
“Maybe we’ll break down some of the better-known Cuban restaurants in the city,” he said.

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September 9, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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DiPaola: Pitt’s first crisis, and other notes

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Pitt faces its first crisis of the season this week, with the loss of starting center Artie Rowell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury at Boston College.
Coach Paul Chryst wasn’t eager to discuss his replacement strategy, but he used sophomore Gabe Roberts on Friday when Rowell went down. And he listed Roberts No. 1 on the depth chart this week, ahead of redshirt freshman Alex Officer.
Personally, Chryst was genuinely sorry for the misfortune Rowell and linebacker Ejuan Price (season-ending pectoral injury) are facing.
“I feel bad for Ejuan and Artie (both juniors),” he said. “Their window to play is a defined window. They are missing out on opportunities. Both of those guys love the game and love being a part of the team.
“That’s the thing I feel the most.”
A few notes:
– The Iowa game on Sept. 20 at Heinz Field will start at noon and be televised either on ESPN or ESPNU. The network will decide the venue after Saturday’s games. Iowa and Pitt are 2-0, and the Hawkeyes will be coming off a home game against in-state rival Iowa State.
– Four Pitt players have been chosen ACC players of the week this season: running back James Conner (twice), guard Matt Rotheram, offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings and kicker Chris Blewitt. Impressive stat compiled by Blewitt, a sophomore: He has hit 14 of his past 16 field-goal attempts. Eight occurred outside the 40-yard line.
– If Pitt beats Florida International on Saturday in cozy 20,000-seat FIU Stadum in Miami, the Panthers will be 3-0 for the third time this century (2000 and 2009).
In 2000, they started 4-0 and then lost five of its final eight.
In 2009, Pitt started 3-1 before winning six in a row and finishing with its only double-digit victory total (10-3) in almost three decades.
– Speaking of 1980s Pitt football, I had a nice chat with FIU coach Ron Turner on Monday. As we were saying our goodbyes, Turner said, “Tell, Bill, I said, `Hi.’ ”
Bill is Pitt play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove, who is in his 41st season of calling Pitt football games, dating to the first Johnny Majors era. Turner’s connection: He was  Pitt’s quarterbacks coach under coach Foge Fazio in 1983-1984.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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September 6, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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DiPaola: Voytik plays more than a supporting role in Pitt’s early success

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No one should get the wrong idea about Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik. He is more than a caretaker for this Pitt offense that has now rung up 914 yards, 12 touchdowns and 92 points in two games, the latest of which was a 30-20 victory Friday night at Boston College.
Voytik’s role in all of this should not be diminished, even though James Conner and Tyler Boyd are the stars.
The 22-yard throw to wide receiver Manasseh Garner late in the first half was as accurate as any pass to leave a Pitt quarterback’s hands in the past four seasons.
While Pitt was running the hurry-up offense in the first half’s final 83 seconds, Garner caught the ball over his shoulder with a defender running stride-for-stride with him along the sideline. A play later, Voytik found Boyd in the end zone for a 5-yard score, their second scoring connection of the game.
And get this: Voytik said there was a debate on the sideline about going for the score — they were on the Pitt 20-yard line — or running out the clock. Good call, Paul.
Voytik also hit Boyd with a 15-yard score earlier in the second quarter, even though Boyd was well-covered and he said he was held coming off the line.
“Not everyone makes that play,” Voytik said.
But the most telling quote from the sophomore quarterback was this:
“I don’t know how many times we threw it, but who cares?”
Voytik completed 10 of 20 passes for 134 yards, two scores and an interception. That’s a touchdown/completion ratio in two games of 20/4. Think about that. Every five times a Pitt player has made a catch, it has meant six points. Compare that to the attempts/interception ratio of 33/1.
OK. One of the opponents was Delaware of the FCS, and Boston College has a long way to go before it becomes a successful team. And the schedule gets tougher — not next week against Florida International, but in two weeks back at Heinz Field against Iowa and later when Pitt meets Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina in successive games. Then, and only then, will we know everything there is to know about this Pitt team.
But Voytik is starting games for the first time since high school (three years ago), and he doesn’t seem bothered by the bright lights. He repeated Friday night that for the second game in a row he wasn’t nervous, describing a calm surrounding him that he said springs from being prepared.
What was it Chuck Noll once said? “The only time you feel pressure is when you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Still, the interception by linebacker Steven Daniels did happen, and if the defense didn’t play as well as it did, the game might have  had a different outcome?
How many shouts of “What was he thinking” emerged from living rooms back home as soon as the interception left Voytik’s hands?
Pitt was losing, 7-3, at the time (late in the first quarter), but Voytik came back on the field and led a nine-play, 71-yard scoring drive, punctuated by the first touchdown to Boyd. Pitt never trailed after that.
Critics will say Voytik needs to complete more than half of his passes, and they will be right. Good quarterbacks complete better than 60 percent.
But for the most part, Voytik is doing what coach Paul Chryst asks of him. For now, that’s all that matters.

One more thing before I head home:
Pitt is 2-0 for the first time since the early days of Todd Graham, but this 2-0 has a different feel that that one in 2011.
For one thing, the players like and trust their coach. If I tried to say that in 2011, I would have been wrong.
Also, in 2011, Pitt opened against Buffalo and Maine at  home and struggled, giving up 45 points.
This time, they went on the road and won a conference game. Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., isn’t the most difficult ACC venue for visiting teams. College football is an afterthought here, with New Englanders consumed by the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics. Only 30,083 showed up on a beautiful Friday night.
But Pitt controlled the game, and once it regained the lead early in the second quarter, it was never threatened again.
As an added bonus for Chryst, Pitt gave up two touchdowns in the second half that will offer the teaching moments he craves. The victory was nice, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

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September 4, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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DiPaola: Pitt won’t cover the 4 points, but its ground game will be the difference against Addazio, Boston College

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Boston College’s Steve Addazio looks like the kind of coach I’d like to cover. Smart, quotable, relaxed. Heck, he conducted his weekly news conference the other day with the New England media while – get this! — sitting down.
“Just talkin’ ball,” he said at one point.
So, when he called Pitt’s ground game “as good a running game as there is in America,” I interpreted it as a legitimate statement. Something a little more than what coaches say just to pump up the other team and make themselves look good if they win the game.
Addazio seems too sure of himself to stoop such a meaningless ploy.
That will be the key, by the way. Pitt can control the game in a hostile environment in Chestnut Hill, Mass., with a strong ground attack that keeps the football out of the hands of BC quarterback Tyler Murphy. He’s the one player who can do the most damage to the Panthers.
Coach Paul Chryst wants to run the ball in any case, and he seems to have a deep, productive stable of backs to do it — James Conner, Isaac Bennett, Rachid Ibrahim and Chris James. Unless,  of course, the 62-0 victory against Delaware was a mirage.
That’s what is so confusing. Is Pitt that good or is Delaware that bad? We won’t know for several weeks beyond the BC game, actually.
The same questions surround Boston College. The Eagles only led UMass, 6-0, at halftime on two field goals before soaring to a 30-7 victory against a MAC team that is probably better than Delaware.
Pitt and Boston College were picked sixth in their respective divisions in the preseason ACC media poll. The loser may be destined to fulfilling that prophecy.
With a victory, Pitt could start 5-1, with dates against Florida International, Iowa, Akron and Virginia preceding a nationally televised ESPN Thursday night game against Virginia Tech at Heinz Field.
Make it Pitt 23, Boston College 20. Pitt won’t cover the spread, but you weren’t planning to bet the game, anyway.

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August 28, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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DiPaola: Can Pitt win 8 games? Well, actually, yes

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It’s  September (well, almost), and that’s a good thing.
School is back in session, the grass soon will stop growing and it’s football season. (I’ll take the last two anytime.)
Pitt coach Paul Chryst loves this time of year nearly as much as his family. Actually, he was raised in a football family, with two older brothers and a dad who was a coach.
Now, Chryst is the coach — the only head coach in his family; brother Geep coaches quarterbacks for the San Francisco 49ers — and he is once again given the daunting task of winning football games at Pitt.
Don’t laugh. It can be done. And not just six or seven of them.
Fans who will fill the parking lots surrounding Heinz Field on Saturday for the opener against Delaware demand more.
I’m here  to tell you, it can happen. Maybe as soon as five days before you carve this year’s Thanksgiving turkey.
Chryst has Pitt pointed in the right direction. He recruits players who love the game, and he doesn’t worry about how many stars recruiting services place next to their names. He demands accountability and respect for the game. He has no sympathy for those players who believe they can get by on talent and don’t work hard enough to nourish it.
Football is a heartless master. It can beat up the most physically gifted player, and it will rudely spit out anyone who doesn’t come prepared.
That’s why Chryst loves training camp. He loves the game prep, watching video with coaches and players and instructing (guiding is a better word) in a dark film room or in the bright sunshine of an August morning.
Chryst also loves coaching because of the bond he shares with his players.
Most of them genuinely like him. There was a player at Pitt not long ago complaining to me about a member of Chryst’s staff. The player found it necessary to add this: “Not Chryst,” he said. “Coach Chryst is the man.”
I found it interesting and instructive that the player spent only one season under Chryst, really didn’t know him all that well.
But Chryst has a way of reaching kids (again, most of them), and that’s coaching.
All of this is a long road to my original point: Pitt will win eight games this season.
There, I said it. Doesn’t sound like much, but Pitt has won that many games only six times in the past 24 years. On average, once every recruiting class. See what I mean?
I looked at the schedule and found a few almost certain victories (Delaware, Florida International, Akron and Virginia), a couple of maybes  (Georgia Tech, Duke and Syracuse) and one upset (Virginia Tech on a Thursday night at Heinz Field).
A reach? Maybe, but not an outrageous one.
I think the offensive line will play well. Other than a few camp experiments, the starting five players have taken a vast majority of the snaps. If they stay healthy, there’s plenty of potential there.
The defense will benefit from the senior influence of Ray Vinopal, Anthony Gonzalez, Todd Thomas and David Durham. Plus, I can’t wait to see how Shady Side Academy graduate Reggie Mitchell, a former safety,  plays at cornerback. He was the fourth option as recently as a month ago, but no one had a better camp. Chryst appreciates — and rewards — such players. Coaches like to call him “a football player.” If  you’re around coaches long enough, you realize they can offer no greater compliment.
On the other side, quarterback Chad Voytik will be smart enough to follow his progressions, remember what Chryst taught him and tuck it and run occasionally. If the line can protect him (and I think it can), Voytik will have an edge Tom Savage never had in a seven-victory season last year. He also will have a bigger, stronger James Conner at running back.
And, of course, there are a couple games Tyler Boyd will win by contorting his body to make a catch, running past slower corners and, perhaps, returning a punt or two for a touchdown.
Sorry, but it adds up to 8-4. If Pitt falls short, it will be perceived as a lack of progress, and that will be hard to argue.
Pitt knows how to be 6-6. Pitt knows how to be average.
I get the feeling that, finally, enough Pitt players would fight you if you called them average.

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August 21, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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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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