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Local products in middle of position battle with Pitt football team

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In the middle of the Pitt defense, where bodies collide and big, fast people move in tight spaces, the collegiate careers of two local players are taking decidedly different turns.

Woodland Hills' Ejuan Price, who recorded four sacks as a freshman outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment last season, has moved inside in the new 4-3, where his duties are less familiar to him. Meanwhile, the player he is battling for playing time, Penn Hills' Dan Mason, is performing so well that it's difficult to remember he suffered a serious knee injury 18 months ago that some thought might end his playing days.

After four days of spring drills — only one of which was in full pads — both players are attracting the coaches' attention.

Interestingly, Mason, a 6-foot, 220-pound junior-to-be, is getting more work with the first team than Price. Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable and linebackers coach Chris Haering like what they've seen from Mason.

"When I got here," Huxtable said, "I was told, 'Coach, he probably won't play.' But you know what• Dan is making believers out of those non-believers. Coming back from a serious knee injury, you would never know it.

"He's a guy who has so much passion for the game, and he's a tough guy. You can tell he loves the game, and it's important to him."

Price, 6-foot, 235 pounds, is adjusting and has had good and bad days thus far.

"I have to start my way from the back of the pack," he said after Tuesday's session. "But everything is good. I am learning every day, and it seems like I got better from Sunday's practice. I am more natural at the outside in a 3-4, but you have to play the cards you are dealt."

The previous coaching staff believed Price would become Pitt's next great pass-rushing linebacker, but he had only two sacks in last season's final 10 games. In the 4-3, redshirt sophomore Eric Williams and redshirt junior Shane Gordon, who are taller than Price, man the outside positions.

"It's not that easy," Haering said of the change in systems. "There is a learning curve associated with it, and these guys are working hard to close that gap."

To that end, Huxtable won't tolerate mistakes, his voice often carrying to all corners of the field.

"I've told them I'm going to give them tough love," he said, "and don't wear it on your shoulders. Wipe it off. I hold a very high standard for them, and I think they understand that.

"Our job is to perform, and we are going to hold them accountable for their performances."

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