After all these years, Pitt guard glad to be Panther
By Jerry DiPaola
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 10:32 p.m.
Pitt guard Chris Jacobson, a big guy with bigger emotions, won't lie about Senior Day on Saturday at Heinz Field.
When he is introduced before the Rutgers game and runs onto the field to meet his parents, he might need some Kleenex stuffed inside his shoulder pads.
“Yeah,” he said softly. “I do cry in the movies, too. When there is a chick flick, I'll cry.”
These tears will be well-deserved.
No Pitt senior has run through a tougher gauntlet of trying times than Jacobson, who was recruited from Keystone Oaks High School early in former coach Dave Wannstedt's career and is in the midst of his sixth academic year on campus.
He has suffered two serious knee injuries, earned a degree in administration of justice and sought a second in legal studies (which he'll finish up in the spring). Plus, he has seen two coaches fired, another resign suddenly and a third — current coach Paul Chryst — try to stand the program upright once again.
“I don't regret anything,” Jacobson said. “I am blessed to be here another year. All the blood, sweat and tears, if I could do it all over again, I would.”
He feels so good about his time at Pitt that when he attended Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday night with his teammates, coaches and university officials, he planned to give something special to chancellor Mark Nordenberg.
“I'll give him a big hug,” Jacobson said.
The secret to surviving the repeated upheaval at Pitt is simply going along with the program, he said.
“When coach Wannstedt got fired, we just kept moving forward, just bought into whatever coach came through the door,” he said.
Chryst's first season lacks a signature victory, a conference championship or a winning streak longer than two games. The Panthers, who can ruin Rutgers' Big East championship hopes, appear to have a better shot at a second consecutive losing season than a bowl berth.
But Chryst succeeded in winning over most of his players, especially those who set the tone in the locker room — the seniors.
“All of us older guys, we want to see coach Chryst stay around for a very long time,” senior center Ryan Turnley said. “We all believe in him. I think he is going to take Pitt to where it wants to be.”
Chryst's method was simple: When he arrived 11 months ago, he didn't try to force his way of thinking onto players whose heads still were reeling over the sudden resignation of former coach Todd Graham.
“To me,” Chryst said, “getting guys to buy in means you are trying to sell something. And we are not trying to sell anything. We're in the process of creating a culture, and we are here to help players be the best players they can be.”
Chryst said he understood what the seniors were forced to endure, but he didn't make it an issue.
“There are a group of (seniors) I have enjoyed being around and respect,” he said. “There are a good group of guys who love the game, work at it and prepare, then go out and play it the best they can. To me, those are pretty good qualities.”
The process hasn't been easy. Chryst questioned his team's effort last week after the loss to Connecticut gave Pitt its third two-game losing streak of the season.
But most of that will be a memory if Pitt can find a way to win its final two games.
“I want these seniors to go out with a win,” Jacobson said, remembering one of the greatest disappointments of his career — a 45-44 loss to Cincinnati in 2009 that robbed Pitt of a Big East championship.
Pitt built a big lead that December afternoon before losing, but it's one of the moments that may serve as motivation for Jacobson on Saturday.
“There are a lot of memories I have here,” he said. “Good ones, bad ones. That was not a good day.”
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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