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Sitting Ringside

Sunday morning musings


Still not used to having Saturdays off, I went to the Pirates-Padres game at PNC Park yesterday afternoon – only to watch Phil Dumatrait and Denny Bautista combine to blow Ross Ohlendorf’s fine pitching performance.

But, hey, I got a free hat!

What’s interesting is that, as a college football writer, I spent so much of my Saturdays covering Pitt games that I didn’t get to see as much college football. I followed the scores on the Internet and saw highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter, but rarely was able to watch other games.

I spent Saturday night following the Pitt-Navy game on ESPN360, watching the end of Washington’s upset of Southern Cal, Notre Dame surviving a scare from Michigan State and some of Arkansas-Georgia.

Here’s my thoughts on the past week, my own rewind:

* What impressed me about Pitt was the play of freshman middle linebacker Dan Mason, who got his first career start when sixth-year senior Adam Gunn couldn’t play because of an ankle injury. Mason finished with a team-high 11 tackles (six solo) and two sacks for losses totaling 14 yards.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Mason stays put and Gunn moves to weak-side linebacker, a possibility I hinted at the first week of the season.

Typically, you would expect a freshman to be overwhelmed in his first start and, especially one as aggressive as Mason, to overrun plays. Adding to the pressure was that it came against Navy’s triple-option offense, which requires the defense to focus on its assignments and play sound.

“He was making all the calls, he was confident with it, too,” Pitt defensive end Greg Romeus said of Mason. “He’s a young guy, but he didn’t act like it. He went in there and took the role and played very well.”

* Bill Stull silenced the Heinz Field boo birds by going 6-for-6 for 62 yards on Pitt’s opening drive, and finished 17 of 24 for 245 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions despite a few dropped passes.

Stull even had the unusual distinction of catching one of his own passes, which resulted in a 20-yard gain before fumbling inside the Navy 5. Talk about padding your stats, Billy.

What’s a shame is that Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt mentioned that it was good for Stull to play at Buffalo, to help relieve some of the pressure of playing in such a negative atmosphere at home: “Last week, the best thing that could have happened for Bill was to play on the road. I think it was good for him mentally to get away and play in front of a road crowd where he could focus on just playing football. He went up to Buffalo and had success.”

Stull came back and had success, silencing some of his critics in the process. Now, those who were calling for Tino Sunseri against Youngstown State are probably wondering why Sunseri relieved Stull in the third quarter against Navy. Maybe Wannstedt thought Pitt had the game in hand, and tried to give Sunseri a shot when it mattered. With Stull’s history of injuries, it only makes sense to get the backup some valuable playing time.

“The plan was to try to put Tino in the game and finish it out that way,” Wannstedt said. “The defense gave up that score, and it was a 10-point game. That’s the difficult thing I have right now. I have all the confidence in the world in Tino and that’s why we put him in during the third quarter.”

* The last word on Pitt: Don’t underestimate the role of the
scout team against opponents with non-traditional offenses like Navy’s, especially the impact that Greg Cross must have had on the defense. For my money, Cross is better than Ricky Dobbs.

Also interesting is how well Gus Mustakas has played against Navy the past two seasons after missing the 2007 loss with a knee injury. Mustakas started in place of Mick Williams last year, and answered with a season-high four tackles with one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. This year, Mustakas played alongside Williams (eight tackles, two sacks) and had a career-high 10 tackles and two quarterback hurries.

* My new role involves more Penguins coverage, and I was fortunate to get a one-on-one interview with captain Sidney Crosby to talk about the burden of being the face of the NHL and the lingering effects of the so-called shake snub.

One of my favorite e-mailers while covering Pitt – we’ll call him “Danno” – pointed out that the Penguins waited two minutes, 10 seconds before lining up to congratulate Detroit at Mellon Arena in 2008, and the Red Wings waited 2:11 before doing the same at Joe Louis Arena this past June. He also noted that Crosby was delayed by the “suits” offering congratulations.

Either way, the Penguins got to spend their summer having a day with the Stanley Cup, while the Red Wings continued to whine about the perceived slight by Crosby.

Somebody needs to tell Shockeytown that the Wings lost.

* One of the fastest-growing developments of covering sports is following the use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter by professional athletes to make announcements.

I’m active on both sites – check my tweets @KGorman_Trib – and found a news nugget Friday morning when Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons proclaimed he would play against the Chicago Bears after missing the opener with an ankle injury.

One of the twists we added to our college football coverage last year was the PA Pipeline, a weekly Sunday feature on former City League and WPIAL stars playing Division I football at out-of-state schools.

Today, the PA Pipeline featured Gateway graduate Ryan Lichtenstein, the hero of Syracuse’s last-second victory over Northwestern Saturday.

Greensburg Central Catholic assistant Nicky Zappone sent a note reminding that former Centurions star Max Suter – a starting safety at Syracuse – picked off a pass and returned it to the Northwestern 35 to set up Lichtenstein’s game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired in the 37-34 victory, the first by Orange coach Doug Marrone at his alma mater.

* Interesting report by USA Football notes that Woodland Hills is one of only seven high schools nationwide to have five or more graduates playing in the NFL, based on NFL rosters the weekend of Sept. 10-14.

When safety Ryan Mundy made the Steelers’ 53-man roster, he helped the Wolverines become one of six teams with five NFL players: outside linebacker Jason Taylor and fullback Lousaka Polite of the Miami Dolphins, receiver/return specialist Steve Breaston of the Arizona Cardinals and cornerback Shawntae Spencer of the San Francisco 49ers.

“High school is when you’re around a group of guys you grew up with. You’ve been playing with most of them since you were young. When I was in high school, I knew I was a talented athlete, but I didn’t really think about the next level as far as football,” Breaston said. “A lot of people kept me grounded. Academics carried me a long way. It got me into a lot of situations and gave me a lot of opportunity. It helps you be successful in life.”

Maybe Pitt should start recruiting these schools harder:

* Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic had the most NFL players, with seven: Brian Westbrook (Eagles), Quinn Ojinnaka (Falcons), Byron Westbrook and Edwin Williams (Redskins), Josh Wilson and John Owens (Seahawks) and Derek Wake (Dolphins). Note: The Panthers have a DeMatha recruit in safety Jeff Knox.

*Concord (Calif.) De La Salle: Matt Gutierrez (Chiefs), Maurice Jones-Drew and Derek Landri (Jaguars), Demetrius Williams (Ravens) and D.J. Williams (Broncos).

Miami Carol City: Ricky Jean-Francois (49ers), Rashad Jeanty (Bengals), Santana Moss (Redskins) and Sinorice Moss and Kenny Phillips (Giants).

* Greenbelt (Md.) Eleanor Roosevelt: Derrick Burgess (Patriots), Will Davis (Cardinals), Jared Gaither (Ravens), Derrick Harvey (Jaguars) and Derrick Williams (Lions).

* Cleveland Glenville: Ted Ginn Jr. (Dolphins), Antwuan Molden (Texans), Troy Smith (Ravens), Donte Whitner (Bills) and Pierre Woods (Patriots).

*Tyler (Texas) Robert E. Lee: Cedric Benson (Bengals), Matt Flynn (Packers), Charles Godfrey (Panthers), Brandon Pettigrew (Lions) and Eric Winston (Texans).

Ten high schools have four NFL players, 42 have three, 174 have two and 1,142 have one. California has produced the most of any state, with 205, followed by Texas (179), Florida (176), Ohio (90), Georgia and Louisiana (80), Alabama (53), South Carolina and Virginia (51).

Pennsylvania rounds out the top 10, with 50.

* Finally, I’m no longer a voter in the Associated Press college football poll, but here’s another look at preseason top 25 picks.

Although I never wavered on picking Texas ahead of Florida for No. 1, half of my top 10 picks already have lost. Maybe I had Tennessee too high at No. 16, but the Vols looked like a top-25 team in their 23-13 defeat at Florida. Northwestern’s loss to Syracuse showed why I was the only voter in America that gave the Wildcats a preseason top 25 vote.

I still don’t regret leaving Georgia out, but I wish I would have had Cincinnati and Miami in. The good news is that I had Pitt at No. 23, which is where the Panthers could end up after their first 3-0 start since 2000.



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