One of the frustrating things for Pitt football followers during the summer months is determining the difference between fact and fiction regarding rumors surrounding Panthers players.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt addressed the status of a handful of players Tuesday at Big East Media Day in Newport, R.I. — but not the one who is cause for most concern.
• The status of sophomore safety Elijah Fields remains a mystery. Suspended for the first half of spring drills, Fields returned to show flashes of stardom in the Blue-Gold Game, when he returned an interception for a touchdown.
Fields has dealt with off-field issues that could jeopardize his season, but nothing has been determined about his future on the team.
“He’s got to finish out his summer,” Wannstedt said, “but he’s doing everything he’s supposed to on and off the field.”
• The fate of incoming freshman Kyle Hubbard could depend on whether he really wants to play basketball at Cleveland State or whether he just doesn’t want to play tight end at Pitt.
The 6-foot-4 Hubbard was recruited as a receiver but was moved to tight end on the first day of seven-on-seven drills when he arrived this summer. Hubbard soon confided to Wannstedt that he wanted to play basketball. If that’s the case, Wannstedt said, “We will definitely release him.” Using basketball as an excuse to leverage his way out of playing tight end, however, is a different story.
Pitt, by the way, needs tight ends. The Panthers have only three on scholarship – senior Darrell Strong, redshirt sophomore John Pelusi and sophomore Nate Byham – and another on the way next year in Madison (Ohio) senior Nic DiLillo. Wannstedt has been impressed with the play of Dustin Walters, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound sophomore walk-on.
• Wannstedt said redshirt freshman middle linebacker Greg Webster, who hasn’t been able to control his battle with Crohn’s disease, “has not been cleared to do anything full-speed, football-wise” and his status is still “uncertain.”
This is a blow to the Panthers, who once had Webster pegged to battle for a starting job and now lack depth behind starter Scott McKillop. Redshirt freshman Dan Loheyde, recovering nicely from a torn ACL suffered on the first day of training camp last summer, could be a possible solution at the position. Justin Hargrove practiced there early in the spring, but his move to defensive end appears to be permanent.
• Wannstedt said Pitt is waiting on a couple of incoming freshmen to get approval for academic eligibility through the NCAA Clearinghouse.
The only recruit who hasn’t enrolled for the second summer session is running back/linebacker Shariff Harris of Bayonne (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep. Wannstedt said Harris is “taking some classes and still trying to work through some academic issues.”
On the bright side, if Hubbard elects to leave Pitt or one of the recruits doesn’t qualify, there’s a strong likelihood that defensive tackle Wayne Jones of Johnstown Bishop McCort will get a scholarship this fall. Jones planned to take a grayshirt and enroll full-time in January, and has paid his own tuition to Pitt this summer.
• One reason the Panthers’ scholarship limit for the Class of 2008 could fluctuate is that two scholarship players are leaving the program. Oft-injured offensive lineman Kevin Hughes will take a medical hardship and concentrate on academics at Pitt. Defensive tackle Derrell Jones will transfer because of academic difficulties.