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Pitt notebook: Starting right guard almost wasn't a Panther

| Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, 6:06 p.m.
Pitt offensive lineman Ryan Schlieper during practice Aug. 23, 2012, on the South Side. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Pitt offensive lineman Ryan Schlieper (76) during practice during practice Aug. 23, 2012, on the South Side. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Ryan Schlieper has earned his spot as Pitt's starting right guard, but he can thank former quarterback Kevan Smith's baseball career for getting him to the school in the first place.

Schlieper, a North Allegheny graduate, settled for a scholarship offer from Maryland in 2009 when Pitt — his first choice — ran out of scholarships.

Two days before signing day, he got a call from the Pitt coaching staff: A scholarship had opened up when Smith was forced to choose between baseball and football. Schlieper quickly canceled his Maryland plans.

Smith, a catcher, became one of the best players in the Big East and was drafted in the seventh round last year by the Chicago White Sox. This season, he's hitting .276 with 10 home runs and 77 RBI in two Single-A leagues.

Schlieper started eight games last season for Pitt and looks to be permanent fixture this year.

“He is really progressing,” said line coach Jim Hueber, who has worked hard to control the physical and mental aspects of Schlieper's game.

“I don't want the game to get too big for him. He's got to stay in there and concentrate on every play. If he does that, he comes out of it pretty good. You just can't let his mind wander. He's a good guy, a hard worker.”

Staying focused

Hueber is demanding in practice, but he also knows the life of a lineman isn't easy.

“These guys probably took somewhere around 100 hits (per day during camp),” he said. “To do that every day, keep your focus and still keep your love for the game and not let your mind wander ... We have to teach them how to do that. Then, we'll be OK.”

No redshirt for Holtz

Freshman J.P. Holtz of Shaler is No. 3 on the depth chart at tight end, which means coaches have no plans to redshirt him this season.

“I'm trying to help the team out with whatever I can do,” he said. “If it's one rep a game, it's one rep a game. That's what I came here to do: Work and try to play my freshman year, and it happened.”

Holtz, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, said he has adjusted well to the physical aspects of the game. Mentally, it's a challenge.

“The mental (part) is all the things you have to do,” he said. “Learning the plays, school, your social life, you can't be out the night before practice, adapting to all the new things, being on your own as an adult. But I'm ready to play. I'd rather play than sit on the sidelines.”

Bennett's back

Running back Isaac Bennett returned to practice after missing some time last week to rest his sore knees.

“The doctor said I was born with loose kneecaps,” he said. “I guess my knee came out, and it got a little inflamed. I'm good now.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at or 412-320-7997.

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