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Pitt's early football enrollee gets wake-up call

| Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, 8:30 p.m.

After his first night on Pitt's campus, Australian punter Kirk Christodoulou knows the worst is over.

At least now, he has sheets on his bed and a winter jacket.

Christodoulou is one of five future Pitt players who enrolled this semester, getting a jump on workouts and college life. Four are freshmen, and the fifth is graduate transfer quarterback Max Browne, a former No. 1 recruit who started the first three games this past season at USC before losing his job.

Browne is a senior with only one year of eligibility.

“It's my last shot,” he said. “I'm all in.”

Also enrolling early are quarterback Kenny Pickett of Ocean, N.J.; offensive lineman Jerry Drake of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; and defensive end Deslin Alexandre of Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Christodoulou said finally arriving on campus — he's been a verbal commit since last summer — has been a “surreal” experience.

“It doesn't feel like I'm here,” he said.

Christodoulou showed up without bed sheets and when he entered his room, he saw nothing but an empty bed.

“The first night was a bit a rough,” he said. “I slept in fishing jacket curled up in a ball.

His mother offered to fold up a duvet and pack it with his luggage, but he declined.

“I said, ‘I'm not taking a duvet on an international flight.' ”

Lesson learned, Christodoulou said. “Always listen to your mother.”

Later, Steelers punter Jordan Berry, also an Australian, took Christodoulou to Target so he could buy some bedsheets.

Pitt equipment manager Tim Enright solved Christodoulou's other problem, giving him a heavy jacket to get him through the winter.

Christodoulou, like Berry, is an Australian Rules Football veteran who must adjust to the two-step method of punting. In Rules football, players kick on the run while trying to avoid big hits from the opponent.

“We're a bit more sheltered here,” Christodoulou said. “I can do both (styles).”

Berry said he used to train with Christodoulou.

“He was pretty good back then, and from what I've heard, he's improved quite a bit since then,” Berry said.

Christodoulou said he hasn't discussed freshman playing time with coach Pat Narduzzi, whose three-year punter, Ryan Winslow, has another year of eligibility remaining.

Speaking of playing time, Browne, who lives in Sammamish, Wash., and chose Pitt without taking any other visits, said he'll compete with returning quarterbacks Ben DiNucci and Thomas MacVittie and Pickett.

His age — he'll turn 22 next month — and experience give him an unspoken edge.

Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble, who played at USC, was Browne's host during his recruiting visit in 2013 and played on the same team with him that season.

“He has a big arm,” Grimble said. “Not just a big arm, he has a nice touch.”

Asked to describe his playing style, Browne said, “They're getting a grinder. They're getting a guy who knows how to work, knows how to lead, knows how to just go out there and get after it.

“I haven't played a lot of ball, but I've seen a lot, whether it's coaching changes or whatever.

“It may be hard lessons. They will serve me well and for the rest of my life.”

Browne was benched after three games and a 1-2 record this past season, losing to Alabama and Stanford. Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold took the job and ended up leading USC to its dramatic Rose Bowl victory against Penn State.

Asked if he thought losing his job so early in the season was fair, Browne chuckled.

“It was a tough first three games,” he said. “We played some great opponents. But that's the product of SC in general. You always have someone behind you.

“I thought it was my team. When someone else takes your job, it's not the easiest thing. But at the same time I was sitting on my couch back in Washington watching the Rose Bowl, rooting for my guys.

“I'm happy they got their ring. Those are my guys, always will be.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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