Four QBs will battle to replace Sunseri at Pitt
Chad Voytik and Tom Savage represent a prominent part of Pitt's quarterback future, but they differ in style, stature and football upbringing.
Savage, 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, was a freshman All-American at Rutgers in 2009, but he transferred twice before landing at Pitt this year. He's ineligible as a two-time transfer student, but he will have one year remaining starting with spring drills in 2013.
Voytik, 6-1, 205 pounds, was initially recruited to Pitt by former coach Todd Graham and is redshirting as a freshman this season under Paul Chryst.
Pitt coaches liked how Voytik adjusted to the pro-style offense after running a spread attack at Cleveland (Tenn.) High School, but he never threatened senior Tino Sunseri for the job.
Sunseri's 37th consecutive start will be noon Saturday when Pitt hosts Rutgers.
At most, Sunseri has three games left in his career depending on if the Panthers rally to become bowl eligible. After that, the battle will begin during spring drills.
Savage and Voytik will join sophomore Trey Anderson and incoming freshman Tra'von Chapman, who's planning to graduate early from Theodore Roosevelt (Ohio) High School and enroll in January.
“I expected to be redshirted,” said Voytik after spending this season watching and learning. “And, honestly, that's what I wanted. I knew that would be best for me.
“I feel like we've been prepared to take on that role.''
Savage comes with an impressive resume, but he hasn't played since 2010. After throwing for nearly 4,000 yards at Cardinal O'Hara High School, outside Philadelphia, he was offered scholarships by Alabama and Georgia before choosing Rutgers.
“It was close to home,” he said. “I felt like, at the time, the offense was the perfect situation.”
And it was — for a little more than a year.
Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano called on Savage at halftime of the first game of his freshman year after senior Domenic Natale had thrown three interceptions in the first half against Cincinnati, which was leading, 31-7.
“It was a scary situation,” Savage said, “because the last game I played was against a small Catholic League school in Philadelphia.”
Rutgers lost that game, 47-15, but Savage was encouraged.
“I threw a touchdown pass,” he said. “It was awesome.”
Initially, Savage flourished as Rutgers' starter, but hand and rib fractures broke his dreams. The following season, he was replaced by Chas Dodd, never reclaimed his starting job and transferred to Arizona.
“I was young, making a decision and went with it,” he said. “I don't regret it. At the time, I was struggling. I was really bitter and really, actually, to be honest with you, angry. I wanted to get back out there and play and just never got the shot.”
A year later, Arizona switched to a spread offense, and Savage decided to leave to be closer to family, he said.
“One of my aunts was really sick,” he said. “I wanted to be closer to home.”
He chose to walk-on at Pitt over Maryland and Delaware in large part due to Chryst's reputation as a quarterback tutor in a pro-style offense and in small part because of Pitt's discounted, in-state tuition.
Also, Savage's brother, Bryan, played under Chryst at Wisconsin.
Savage and Voytik remarked how Chryst's detailed film work has helped them grow.
“They don't just tell you, ‘Here are the progressions, one, two three,' ” Savage said of Chryst and quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger. “It's more like, why is that the progression? I like understanding why.”
The problem is that Savage, 22, has only one more chance to make his mark in college.
“It's kind of nerve-racking,” he said. “It's weird to think you have one year left, and you have to do everything right now. It's really difficult. You can't let yourself get so comfortable with sitting out.
“This is my chance to just work and get better. Every practice is the Super Bowl for me.”
Voytik, Savage and Anderson have become friends on and off the field, and they often compete against each other after practice.
Savage has the strongest throwing arm, but the others are more mobile.
“Trey and I say we make up for it with our feet,” Voytik said. “We always joke we wish we could exchange a little bit of escapability for a little bit of arm strength.”
Meanwhile, Voytik, 18, said he's adjusting to college life.
“You feel like you are maturing when you have to wash your own dishes and do your own laundry and kind of take care of yourself,” he said. “Mom is not there to cook your breakfast in the morning. You have to get up and make your own oatmeal.”
Less than a year from now, his responsibilities could increase on another level.
“It's hard to imagine being the guy,” he said. “It's a lot of pressure. If that happens to be me, then I feel like I'd be ready to do that.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7997.