Share This Page

Select few freshmen contribute for Pitt football

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 8:21 p.m.
Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz rambles down the sideline against Rutgers at Heinz Field Nov. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt running back Rushel Shell stiff-arms Rutgers' Marcus Thompson in the second quarter at Heinz Field Nov. 24, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Many freshmen aren't ready for the physical and mental strain of big-time college football, and they wisely accept a redshirt.

For coaches, the lure of having a player for four more years — after he gets a chance to practice, watch and learn during his first season — can be too tempting to ignore.

With the season down to its final one or two games, Pitt coach Paul Chryst and his staff have succeeded in redshirting 12 of the 16 freshmen who signed letters of intent last February. Defensive back Jahmahl Pardner might be the 13th. He suffered a knee injury in the third game after earning playing time as the nickel back, and he is expected to regain his redshirt through an NCAA postseason ruling.

Sometimes, coaches have no choice and freshmen deserve to play now. In the cases of running back Rushel Shell, defensive tackle Darryl Render and tight end J.P. Holtz, all three proved to be among the best players at their positions.

Shell is second on the team in rushing yards (509), but he has stepped aside recently for senior Ray Graham and carried only 17 times in the past three games. That's OK with him, and it's all part of the learning process, he said.

“This year taught me a lot of things,” Shell said. “You know what gets (coaches) mad and what doesn't. You can't teach effort. You have to go hard every play.”

Aside from the lessons learned from his playbook and on the field, he also has learned accountability.

“It's all up to us, not up to (the coaches), whether we want to use our talent or just throw it away,” he said.

Holtz will make his ninth start Saturday when Pitt puts its bowl hopes on the line at South Florida. He has only nine catches, but two are touchdowns. He leads the team with a 16.9-yard average.

“My first start against Virginia Tech, I was really nervous and didn't know what to do,” he said. “But now it's just another game.”

What's most impressive about Holtz is that he was predominantly a running back at Shaler High School, and he has been learning to play tight end this season. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, who also coaches the tight ends, likes the progress Holtz has made.

“He has been working his tail off,” Rudolph said. “Just being in a three-point stance, the whole thing was kind of new.”

“I really didn't know how to block (before) coming into Pitt,” Holtz said. “If it wasn't for (Rudolph), I would be a horrible blocker.”

While learning the detailed fundamentals of blocking, Holtz (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) has brought a physical presence to the field that sets him apart. Twice this season, games have been delayed as the opponent's trainers tended to defensive backs who got in Holtz's way.

“That's what you appreciated about him from day one,” Rudolph said. “He wasn't going to shy away from the contact or the physical nature. That's something he had great confidence in, and you don't always get that. So, we have something special.”

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.