Family matters for Pitt speedy receiver Saddler
Pitt wide receiver Cam Saddler doesn't need an excuse to talk trash, but Thursday in Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, he gets a free pass to say anything.
The target will be Cincinnati senior middle linebacker Greg Blair, who is more than just another faceless opponent. He is Saddler's nephew. Saddler's sister Shari is Blair's mother.
“He doesn't stand a chance,” Saddler said. “I can talk about his uncle, I can talk about his grandma, I can talk about his mom, and I can't get in trouble for it.”
Blair, a graduate of Schenley High School and the brother of former Pitt basketball star DeJuan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs, said the game is more than just an opportunity to play against an uncle who also was a childhood friend.
“It's going to be really special,” he said. “But it's not about who I'm going against. It's about my first start. It's going to be a great opportunity to show the world who I am.
“I've had a lot of roadblocks, but I kept going and now I'm headed to where I want to go.”
Blair's journey hasn't been easy. He was lightly recruited at Schenley, and he settled on Lackawanna College in Scranton to help get his academics in order.
He played two seasons before transferring to Cincinnati, where he tore a meniscus in his knee last season while playing special teams. He recovered in time for camp, but he was jolted two weeks ago when close friend Robert Murphy was shot and killed in Munhall.
“They said it was a drive-by shooting and he died shortly afterward,” Blair told the Website Bearcats.com. “It's messed up. He was probably the closest friend that I had. He was one of those friends you just do everything with. It's hard to lose him, but you just have to move on.”
Blair will be surrounded by family members this week, with several expected to attend the game, including his brother DeJuan.
At 6-foot-2, 243 pounds, Greg Blair joked that he might hit Saddler (5-7, 160) a little harder than usual.
“Just because he is a family member, but it's all love after the game,” Blair said.
“I'm the uncle,” Saddler said in protest. “He should take it light on me. That should be the rule.”
The game could match two sides of the family against each other, but Saddler's father Champ, who is Blair's grandfather, will favor the Panthers.
“I want to see my grandson do well, but I'm a Pitt guy,” Champ said.
But DeJuan Blair, one of the all-time great Pitt basketball players, may be forced to wear Cincinnati colors.
“DeJuan is actually coming up to stay at my house,” Greg said. “I won't let him in the house unless he's wearing black.”
Notes: Coach Paul Chryst said running back Ray Graham practiced without much discomfort this week. “Talking with him and seeing him, he felt all right.” ... Chryst said he will decide before the team leaves for Cincinnati today if the six players suspended last week will be among the traveling party. “I like the way guys are approaching it right now, them included,” he said.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.