Walk-on WR excels in Pitt scrimmage
By Jerry DiPaola
Published: Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, 5:38 p.m.
Two years ago, Chris Wuestner separated the growth plate in his hip so badly that he took one step onto the field at Carlisle High School and fell down.
Standing tall and fully recovered Saturday, he was a star of Pitt's scrimmage, a freshman walk-on catching nearly as many passes as anyone who's getting his education for free.
“It's crazy how a couple guys went down and they called my name,” he said. “I just try to work hard, learn the offense and do what I can.”
With Pitt practicing without four injured receivers, including starters Devin Street and Mike Shanahan, Wuestner is among a handful of young pass catchers hoping to impress coaches. After two weeks of drills, he has caught most anything within reach of his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame.
Not bad for a former basketball and baseball player who played in a Wing T offense as a sophomore, missed his junior season with the injury and, finally, started catching passes (50 for 880 yards and nine touchdowns) last year.
He received no scholarship offers, but he could have gone to Lehigh. The tuition there is steeper than at Pitt, but the main reason for him joining the Panthers has no price tag.
“I just wanted to play Division I ball,” he said.
Pitt coach Paul Chryst noticed Wuestner shortly after he was hired, and quickly dispatched assistants to drive to Carlisle to recruit him, a 304-mile, six-hour round trip that is a rare concession to a walk-on.
Chryst didn't need much of a sales pitch, but he pointed out when he was at Wisconsin last year, five players who came to school as walk-ons played in the Rose Bowl.
Wuestner (pronounced Ween-ster) still may get redshirted and his opportunities might diminish as the season approaches. Shanahan, in fact, is expected to return next week from a hamstring injury.
But Wuestner said redshirting won't bother him. There is also a chance (no promises) that he will be awarded a scholarship.
“It's just an extra year to get my education, an extra year to learn and get bigger and stronger.”
Chryst wasn't entirely pleased.
“There are some things where it's starting to look like football and some things where we have to get it cleaned up,” he said, pointing out there were nine pre-snap penalties.
He cut the scrimmage short by about 50 plays and 45 minutes from last week. When told there were only 129 snaps, he joked, “That's disappointing to hear.”
Freshmen step up
Chryst has shown he is not afraid to use freshmen, and outside linebacker Bam Bradley, a 6-3, 230-pound former safety, and nickel back Jahmahl Pardner are getting numerous opportunities.
“Bam is giving himself a chance to get in the mix,” Chryst said. “I think he is a talented player and there is still a lot of learning to do and when that's the case, you play hesitant sometimes.”
Out of action
Among the players not practicing was running back Ray Graham (knee). There is no definite timetable for his return.
“We'll see where he is at with it (this week),” Chryst said.
Freshman running back Rushel Shell (back) also missed practice for the third consecutive day.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts was excused to attend his cousin's funeral. He was replaced by redshirt sophomore Cullen Christian.
With Trey Anderson hobbled, quarterbacks Tino Sunseri and Chad Voytik took all the snaps. Voytik threw a touchdown pass to Wuestner. Sunseri threw a shovel pass to running back Isaac Bennett for a touchdown.
Middle linebacker Shane Gordon returned from an injury and – along with Bradley – gave the defense a more stout presence.
“Hopefully, we can start getting guys back next week,” Chryst said. “The game (Sept. 1) is not waiting for us. We have to get ourselves ready and we need as many guys healthy as we can.”
Safety Andrew Taglianetti hurt his shoulder and came to the sideline after having trouble lifting it.
“I didn't like to come out like that, but we still have a couple weeks to go before the season and I didn't want to do anything to damage it,” he said.
Harper's good day
Kicker Kevin Harper had one of his best days of camp, hitting four of five field goal attempts, including 48-, 42-, 37- and 31-yarders. He missed from 42.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.
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