Belle Vernon senior offensive lineman Dorian Johnson said Monday night he will not make a previously scheduled visit to Ohio State this weekend after verbally committing to Pitt a day earlier.
“I won’t be taking any visits to any other schools,” he said.
Johnson, 6-foot-6, 285 pounds, became the 19th member of Pitt’s Class of 2013, including the third offensive linemen. None of the linemen are shorter than 6-foot-5.
Johnson chose Pitt from among 19 scholarship offers, including those from such college football powerhouses as Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
“I’m pretty happy it’s over,” he said. “It was a fun process at times, but for the most part it was pretty stressful.”
Johnson committed to Penn State earlier this year before re-opening his recruitment after the NCAA levied sanctions on the Nittany Lions in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
“I chose Pitt because of the comfort level I have for everyone there,” he said. “I feel like it’s the best place for my personality and I wanted to stay home and play for the hometown team.”
The College Locker Room
Belle Vernon senior offensive lineman Dorian Johnson said Monday night he will not make a previously scheduled visit to Ohio State this weekend after verbally committing to Pitt a day earlier.
Pitt’s NFL touchdown streak ended Monday night at 28 consecutive weeks — the third-longest since 2000 — when Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin left the Steelers game Monday night with head and neck injuries without scoring.
The streak also could have been extended in the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, but backup running back Stanley Havili, not LeSean McCoy, scored from the 1 late in the fourth quarter.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco scored on a 1-yard sneak against the Oakland Raiders, but Flacco spent most of his collegiate career at Delaware after transferring from Pitt.
Here is the link to the story the Trib’s John Grupp wrote about the streak on Sept. 29 of this year:
Former Steelers LB Earl Holmes’ promotion at Florida A&M brings back memories of TRS locker-room fight
The weather was sunny and cold in Hartford, Conn., Friday morning. Most of the 4 inches of snow that fell on the region melted, but temperatures are expected to dip into the low 30s for Pitt’s game against Connecticut Friday night at The Rent (Rentschler Field).
Lots of talk in the Hartford Courant about the shaky job security of the UConn football (Paul Pasqualoni) and basketball (Kevin Ollie) coaches, but over breakfast my eyes were diverted to news about another coach.
Did anyone notice who became interim coach at Florida A&M after Joe Taylor, the winningest coach in the history of Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football, resigned this week?
Yes, that Earl Holmes.
Holmes is the former Steelers linebacker, who told coach Bill Cowher — upon Holmes getting picked in the fourth round in 1996 — that he had just selected the best linebacker in the draft.
I spent a lot of time covering the Steelers in those days and always enjoyed talking to Holmes, a tough, smart, passionate guy who never got the fullest respect from his coaches. It’s ironic that Holmes has become a head coach (OK, interim) before some of those coaches who used to criticize him.
Holmes, one of the greatest linebackers in Florida A&M history, was the school’s defensive coordinator before being promoted Thursday.
Over the years, I have gotten a lot of mileage from telling and re-telling the story of Holmes’ passion spilling into the Steelers locker room during a fight with running back Richard Huntley at Three Rivers Stadium after a spring practice in 2000.
When I told the story to the kids at Mars Middle School last month, they listened more intently than when I told them the importance of a good vocabulary.
I’ll tell it again (the abridged version):
In the midst of a non-contact drill, Huntley didn’t like how Holmes pushed him during a run play. A few shoves and harsh words were exchanged and Huntley threw the football at Holmes, but real trouble erupted later in the locker room when Earl burst inside looking for Richard.
I was interviewing Huntley with two other reporters when Earl shoved me aside (I was uninjured) and started shouting and flailing away at his teammate. Running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala got a black eye trying to play peace-maker and later had the quote of the year: “It was like the WWF. I just wish it was fake like the WWF.”
At one point, linebacker Jason Gildon, now an assistant coach at Seneca Valley, picked up a chair and start swinging it before Cowher arrived to defuse the situation. No one was fined, and other than poor Fu, no one was injured.
But I’ll never forget offensive tackle Shar Pourdanash looking at me and saying, “You’re not going to write that, are you?”
Sorry, Shar. This makes twice.
A couple of Pitt items that interest me (maybe you, too):
By the way, I am writing this while watching a replay of the Pitt/Notre Dame game. Yes, it’s worth watching again.
– I had a friendly chat Wednesday with Theodore Roosevelt (Ohio) High School coach John Nemec, whose prize pupil is 2013 Pitt quarterback recruit Tra’Von Chapman.
Nemec told me that Chapman, who gave Pitt a verbal commitment over the summer, plans to enroll in January and be available for spring practice. That means the spring of 2013 will be the first since 2010 without an incumbent starter.
Joining Chapman will be junior-to-be Trey Anderson, Chad Voytik, who is being redshirted this fall during his freshman season, and Tom Savage, who is sitting out this year after transferring from Arizona. Savage also spent two seasons at Rutgers.
Nemec said Chapman, 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, has led Roosevelt, a school from Ohio’s second-largest classification, to a 10-1 record and into the second round of the playoffs Friday night. Chapman has thrown for 32 touchdowns, 2,500 yards, with only eight interceptions. He also has run for 700 yards.
Nemec, a Gateway graduate, was a bit conflicted when I told him his alma mater is playing Woodland Hills in the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals. Nemec counts Woodland Hills coach George Novak as one of his coaching fraternity buddies.
– A look at the Pitt depth chart indicates that freshman J.P. Holtz is a co-starter at tight end, along with senior Hubie Graham. Holtz has scored touchdowns in two consecutive games.
– Pitt kicker Kevin Harper leads the Big East in scoring (72), field goals (14) and attempts (20).
– Pitt kickoff returner Lafayette Pitts, who is also a starting cornerback, leads the conference in average yards (27.3)..
– Pitt coach Paul Chryst said on his radio show Wednesday night that Anthony Gonzalez, who has been a Wildcat quarterback, H-back and safety in three years on campus, will be used as a backup emergency linebacker in Connecticut. He also said long snapper Kevin Barthelemy, who has missed the past five games with left hand injury, may be ready to return.
– To those Notre Dame fans, who booed when linebacker Emanuel Rackard fell down and were thinking — wrongly — that it was a ploy to get Pitt a timeout: Rackard has a knee injury and won’t make the trip to Connecticut.
– To those adult Notre Dame fans, who sit in the press box cheering and high-fiving each other: Grow up. It’s a workplace, not a bar.
– During the telecast, analyst Mike Mayock said Pitt has the best screen game of any team he has watched on video this season.
– Remember the play in the second quarter when Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick appeared to score, but the play was overturned on replay review? Riddick’s knee hit the 1 before he reached the goal line because of a nice, diving tackle by Aaron Donald. Impressive athleticism for a big man. You can see so much more on TV than from the press box while trying to meet a deadline.
Pitt redshirt junior Shane Gordon could be a regular presence in the lineup Friday night against Connecticut for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain Oct. 13 in the Louisville game. If he doesn’t start, Gordon will share time with senior Joe Trebitz.
Gordon played only one snap against Notre Dame, dropping Irish running back Theo Riddick for a 4-yard loss at the Pitt 5-yard line in the second quarter. Coach Paul Chryst was making no promises Monday, but he was hopeful that Gordon would be able to play more than that against the Huskies.
Weakside linebacker Todd Thomas was more definitive about Gordon’s return.
“Shane’s good, his ankle’s good, he’s ready,” said Thomas, who added that he directed Gordon where to rush when he tackled Riddick.
– Thomas said his “training camp” is almost over after he missed preseason and half the regular season while recovering from January knee surgery.
“During the game, I get a little tired, legs hurting, but it’s getting better,” he said.
Thomas has started the past three games.
– Emanuel Rackard, who is listed as the No. 1 backup at strongside linebacker, has a knee injury and won’t play against Connecticut. Rackard joins Manny Williams (knee) and Dan Mason (lacerated liver) on the list of inactive linebackers.
– I engaged in some (probably) meaningless bowl speculation Tuesday, and there is a slight possibility that the Backyard Brawl could resurface in Yankee Stadium, of all places.
So much must happen that it’s hardly worth mentioning, which is why I’ll do it, anyway.
The Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29 matches the fourth-place Big East school against a Big 12 team. Pitt could finish fourth by winning its final three games (difficult, but not impossible) while Syracuse loses two of three.
Pitt (4-5, 1-3) plays Connecticut, Rutgers and South Florida. Syracuse (4-5, 3-2) hosts undefeated Louisville on Saturday before visiting Missouri of the SEC and Temple. Again, it’s possible.
Meanwhile, West Virginia (5-3) visits Oklahoma State and Iowa State in between home games against Oklahoma and Kansas. The Mountaineers could fall to a minor bowl such as the Pinstripe by losing three of those four.
I can’t say what the Pinstripe people think of a Pitt/WVU matchup, but you probably wouldn’t be far wrong in guessing that the two fan bases would love a post-Christmas trip to New York City. Although, I’m not sure how much holiday spirit WVU fans might have after their team started 5-0 and finished 6-6.
Pitt never has played a bowl game so close to home, and many fans would be able to drive.
Then, there’s this: A first-ever Pitt/WVU bowl might spur the schools to get serious about restarting the series sometime before the end of the decade.
Forgive Willie Dodaro if he misses Mass on Saturday afternoon.
After all, Joe Trebitz is starting for Pitt against Notre Dame, and Dodaro believes it would be sinful to miss the game.
“I usually go to church on Saturday afternoon because my only day to sleep in is Sunday morning,” said Dodaro, the football coach at West Boca Raton (Fla.) High School where Trebitz was a four-year starter. “I usually go to 4 o’clock Mass. I told my wife, `We’re not going to church this week.’ ”
Trebitz, a fifth-year senior, is scheduled to make the first start of his career for Pitt at middle linebacker when the Panthers play Notre Dame on national televison at 3:30 Saturday. Unless something unforeseen happens the rest of the week — such as regular starter Shane Gordon suddenly recovering from his high ankle sprain — Trebitz will replace Dan Mason, who was lost for the season with a lacerated liver.
“Thank you for sharing the good news with me,” said Dodaro, who added the entire West Boca student body will hear it Wednesday on the morning announcements. “For him to get a start against Notre Dame, it’s gotta be unbelievable.”
Dodaro, a graduate of Elizabeth Forward High School who played football with former Steeler Tunch Ilkin at Indiana State, said Trebitz “brings a lot of leadership to the table.”
“He never wanted to come off the field. He was always humble and wanted to know more because he was so smart.”
I asked Dodaro for his best Joe Trebitz story.
“We knew we were going to win when Joe threw up before the game,” Dodaro said. “He threw up before every game. If the kids didn’t see him throwing up in pre-practice, we knew it was going to be a rough night.”
Former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and assistants Charlie Partridge and Paul Rhoads recruited Trebitz in 2008, and all three were gone by the end of 2010. As a result, Trebitz has been forced to prove himself to three different coaching staffs while playing mainly special teams.
“He met every coach and was loyal to every coach he met,” Dodaro said. “I know Dave liked him a lot. I’m proud of him. He’s in a great institution, getting a great education and getting it paid for and you never can complain about that.”
Before I said goodbye to Dodaro, I asked how his team is doing this season.
He laughed. “I need more Joe Trebitzes,” he said.
Almost exactly one year ago today, this story ran in the Trib on Tray Woodall’s return to New Jersey to help with cleanup efforts after Hurricane Irene. Now, the waters are back again. With so many of the Pitt players from the affected areas, I’m working to find out if their families/homes are OK. Will keep you updated.
Pitt continually found holes in the Temple defense Saturday and built a 31-7 halftime lead at Heinz Field.
Pitt scored touchdowns after 90-, 80- and 62-yard drives, the latter ending with a 1-yard pass from quarterback Tino Sunseri to running back Ray Graham with one second left in the half.
Graham and Sunseri led the offensive surge. Graham carried 12 times for 50 yards a touchdown and added four receptions for 71 yards.
Sunseri completed 15 of 19 for 230 yards and stretched his streak without an interception to 4 1/2 games.
Freshman Rushel Shell gained 41 yards on six carries, including his personal best (33).
Pitt took advantage of a careless mistake by Temple to take a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
After failing to gain a first down on its first possession, Pitt punted and the football struck Temple’s Anthony Robey, who was covering the kick, but had his back to the play.
Pitt’s Eric Williams recovered on the Temple 39, and the Panthers scored seven plays later on a 1-yard run by Rushel Shell.
Sunseri helped keep the drive alive with a 17-yard completion to Mike Shanahan on third-and-6.
After Pitt forced two Temple punts, the Panthers seized control and led 14-0 before the end of the first quarter. Sunseri hit freshman J.P. Holtz for an 18-yard score, the first of his career, at the end of a six-play, 90-yard march.
Temple’s only touchdown of the first half was set up when Pitt allowed a 77-yard kickoff return by the Owls’ Matt Brown. That led to a 9-yard scoring toss from Chris Coyer to tight end Cody Booth.
In the second quarter, two big plays by Pitt led only to a 32-yard field goal by Kevin Harper.
First, senior Cam Saddler’s 37-yard punt return, which would have been the longest of his career, was nullified by a block-in-the-back penalty by Corey Davis. Then, Pitt’s offense stalled after Shell’s 33-yard run.
Harper extended his successful field-goal streak to three (five of his last six).
With 2:32 left in the half, Graham scored on a 1-yard run after a reversal of his lost fumble into the end zone gave the ball back to Pitt.
The cool part about following the region’s sports teams from a media perch is that you don’t need to adhere to those mandates that coaches place upon themselves and their teams.
For example, the last topic Pitt coach Paul Chryst wants to discuss is what the Panthers need to do to reach a bowl or have a winning season. Which makes perfect sense because the players’ focus needs to be centered on the next game, next practice, next snap in practice. If you’re even thinking ahead to what’s for dinner, a good coach will jolt you out of those thoughts in a hurry.
Chyrst can’t be responsible for my actions — not that he wants to be — so I can look ahead and make this proclamation:
In many ways, the game Saturday against Big East foe Temple at Heinz Field is a must-win. Lose, and there goes the season.
– Pitt is only 3-4 and a loss Saturday means this: It must win each of the remaining four games — two of which are against undefeated Notre Dame and Rutgers — to record a winning season. By the way, a Pitt coach hasn’t won more games than he lost in his first season since Foge Fazio was 9-3 in 1982. Since 1955, only John Michelosen, Johnny Majors (the first time, of course), Jackie Sherrill and Fazio have done it.
– To go from 3-5 to 6-6 (minimum, but not guaranteed, bowl eligibility) would require a 3-1 finishing stretch. Which isn’t such an outrageous thought, actually. Pitt did three of four twice in the final eight games of the 2010 season while firing Dave Wannstedt.
– A home loss to Temple, which is less than a decade removed from almost dropping its football program, would be embarrassing and keep Pitt winless after four Big East games.
– Going to Notre Dame at 3-5 would take the shine off next week’s game, with much of the nation watching (especially if Notre Dame finds a way to beat Oklahoma on Saturday).
If Pitt loses to Temple, 5-7 is probably the best Pitt fans can expect this season.
But a victory builds a little momentum for the trip to South Bend where the Panthers will face, possibly, the nation’s best defense. Plus, if quarterback Tino Sunseri resumes his strong play against the Owls — something that was missing last week in windy, rainy Buffalo — and keeps it alive next week, it will send even more national publicity Pitt’s way. And that’s crucial with uncommitted local recruits Dorian Johnson of Belle Vernon, Robert Foster of Central Valley and Tyler Boyd of Clairton watching closely.
I believe Pitt will win the game, but the seven points oddsmakers are giving Temple are tempting: Pitt 24, Temple 20.
Just a thought that might explain why Pitt football has trouble gaining traction with area sports fans: It is 2-6 after a victory under coaches Todd Graham and Chryst.
Pitt will meet Buffalo on Saturday with a different look at linebacker, but coach Paul Chryst isn’t changing the lineup for punitive reasons.
It’s a simple matter of injury and recovery.
Chryst said on his radio show Wednesday that outside linebacker Manny Williams won’t play against Buffalo. He wasn’t as definitive about middle linebacker Shane Gordon missing the game, but he did admit that Gordon hasn’t practiced yet this week.
Meanwhile, Todd Thomas is getting stronger and looks ready to shoulder a heavier workload on the weak side.
“I am really looking forward to him being a much bigger contributor now,” defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said.
The starting lineup at linebacker could be Thomas and Eric Williams, with Dan Mason in the middle. It would be Mason’s first start since severely injuring his knee 25 months ago.
Others who could miss the game due to injuries are tight end Hubie Graham and his backup Drew Carswell and fullback Mark Giubilato.
Meanwhile, there are several players on both sides of the ball battling lesser injuries, but finding a way to stay on the field.
“They are suffering in silence,” Huxtable said. “Everyone is banged up this time of year. That’s football.”
If Gordon doesn’t start against Buffalo, redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts will become the only defensive player to start all seven games.
“He has a tremendous work ethic,” Huxtable said. “He’s in here all the time in the study room, watching film, studying the opponent and the passing game. He gives you a good day’s work every day on the practice field.”
Huxtable also appreciates Pitts’ toughness.
“He won’t turn down a hit. He’s going to bring it and he’s going to throw his body around. He’s just not a guy out there as a corner covering. He’ll participate in the game and get involved and mix it up.”