Competitive nature fuels Pitt QB derby
Whether he's holding a football or swinging a pingpong paddle, Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik won't apologize for his competitive instincts.
“In pingpong, if I lose, I'm not going to say I'm going to throw the paddle,” he said, “but I'm going to think about it.”
That will be the attitude Voytik will carry into a contest of another sort that starts Tuesday when Pitt opens football practice. For the first time since 2010, the Panthers enter a season without an incumbent starting quarterback.
Coach Paul Chryst hasn't named a starter and wants to keep the competition alive, although fifth-year senior Tom Savage had an edge in the spring. A decisive thinker on most matters, Chryst has clear thoughts on the matter, but he's keeping most of them to himself.
For now, the job — and Chryst's mind — remains open.
Savage, 23, is the assumed starter over Voytik, 19, for the opener Sept. 2 against Florida State. That could change, based on how the quarterbacks perform.
During ACC media days last month in Greensboro, N.C., senior receiver Devin Street praised Savage as if the decision had been made.
“Tom has been working his tail off this summer,” Street said. “I can't say enough about Tom.”
Voytik, a redshirt freshman, also has displayed impressive leadership qualities. When former coach Todd Graham left two years ago, Voytik contacted many of the incoming recruits and helped keep the class together. In the spring, he presided over his huddle with a bit of a swagger.
No matter the outcome, Voytik said he will maintain a team-first outlook.
“We are in competition, of course, but he is four years older than me, and I'm learning a lot from him,” Voytik said. “It's not like mano-a-mano. It's a give-and-take kind of thing, a healthy relationship. If Tom is chosen as the starter, that's what's best for the team. I have a lot of time. It's not the end of the world.”
Savage not only has years, height (4 inches) and weight (13 pounds) on Voytik, but he also has something coaches love: experience.
Savage hasn't played since 2010 when he was a backup at Rutgers, but he was the Scarlet Knights' starter in '09, taking advantage of a gifted right arm to pass for 2,211 yards and 14 scores.
But he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since mopping up for Rutgers in a 41-21 loss to Pitt at Heinz Field on Oct. 23, 2010. He hasn't thrown a pass in a game since Nov. 13 of that year.
Savage doesn't run from his nomadic career — he graduated from Cardinal O'Hara High School in suburban Philadelphia and went to Rutgers before transferring to Arizona and Pitt.
“It's just natural to look back and question what happened,” he said of leaving Rutgers after getting hurt and losing the starting job. “But I'm confident in what I'm doing. I wouldn't want to finish my career at any other place.”
Chryst said on ESPN last week, “It's not (Savage's) nature to bounce around. ... He has approached (the season) like a guy with his last opportunity. He does have a lot of experience and knowledge, but he hasn't played, and there is some uncertainty to (not) playing. But he has been around the maturity level.”
Even with only one year of eligibility, Savage doesn't view this season as the window closing.
“I can't look at it that way,” he said. “Everything is a blessing right now. It is very, very rare for a kid to transfer twice and end up at a dominant school.
“I have to play like I have nothing to lose. I can't play timid.”
Savage said he has learned lessons from Chryst, who tutored his older brother Bryan at Wisconsin.
“He's allowed me to understand why (receivers) are open, and that makes the game a lot slower for quarterbacks,” Savage said.
Asked about his expected rise to the starting job, he said: “I'm not going to say I earned it. That's up to the coaches to say.”
Since the end of spring drills, Savage has spent nearly four months working out and watching video. “You are really trying to nail down your mistakes and nail down the playbook,” he said.
In the meantime, he lost 25 pounds from 250. “I feel a lot better, a lot quicker,” he said.
Voytik went the other way, trying to eat right and gain weight, although he admitted, “It's not easy to eat too healthy on Forbes Avenue.”
But he found a way and now believes he is faster, more athletic and possesses better arm strength than last season. Plus, he hit the scale recently at 212 pounds after playing his senior year of high school at 190.
“I love the way he's grown,” Chryst said.
The coach means more than in a physical sense, but in the next breath, he makes sure he keeps his quarterbacks on the same plane, offering ample encouragement — but not too much.
“I really like the way both have gone about their business,” Chryst said. “Both have gotten comfortable with the offense and just grown as quarterbacks.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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