Pitt center Rowell meets challenge, makes 1st-team

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 10:50 p.m.

Nearly two years ago when Jim Hueber was hired as Pitt's offensive line coach, he offered undersized center Artie Rowell a gentle nudge toward the door.

“I told him it was going to be hard to play with the style offense we are playing if you are going to be 270 pounds,” Hueber said.

Those words turned out to be a challenge that Rowell defiantly accepted, twisting it into his advantage.

And there he was Friday, standing over the football at Pitt's first scrimmage of the summer, ready to snap it to quarterback Tom Savage.

Artie Rowell, starting center.

“When adversity hits you, what are you going to do? Run away from it?” said Rowell, a sophomore from Central Dauphin in Harrisburg. “Or are you going to stand up to it and fight it?”

Standing with his head held high, sweat rolling across his forehead after a long day, Rowell proudly said, “I did it.”

Hueber and Pitt coach Paul Chryst are not close to naming a starter for the opener Sept. 2 against Florida State. For the moment, however, Rowell has replaced redshirt freshman Gabe Roberts, who held the job in the spring and the first 10 days of camp this summer.

“There is no decision been made there,” Hueber said. “I just made a decision we needed to do something to shake it up.

“And Artie deserves it. He is a testament to hard work and really heeding what the coaches say to you.”

Hueber recalled that first meeting with Rowell, suggesting another player with a weaker will might have gone in another direction. After all, 11 members of Rowell's 21-man recruiting class of 2011 — one that spans the tenures of four coaches — are no longer with the team.

“They may just say it's not for me,” Hueber said. “I can get my degree. I can get out of here in three years. But his goal was to play and be a football player. That's what I like about him.”

While diligently working in the weight room, Rowell boosted his 6-foot-2 frame to 305 pounds. Extensive film study helped him understand the concepts of the offense and endure the demands Hueber puts on all his players.

“He's the first guy here (in the morning),” Hueber said. “He studies tape. He's done everything he could do to put himself into a position to compete.”

The competition will continue through practice Saturday at Heinz Field to the last week of camp that runs through Thursday.

“Gabe is big. He has a chance to be a real physical player,” Hueber said of the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Roberts, who never played center until this spring.

“Artie bends a lot better, probably runs a little bit better for some of the stuff we are doing. And both of them have done a good job in pass protection.”

Coach Paul Chryst, who recruited Roberts last year, appreciates what Rowell has accomplished to this point.

“He's a smart guy, smart enough to know what you need to do to get better,” he said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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