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Senior quarterback Sunseri thinks Pitt football's future bright

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 7:54 p.m.
Pitt's Tino Sunseri is the fourth Panthers quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season. Getty Images

With one game to play, quarterback Tino Sunseri is thinking about a Pitt future that doesn't include him.

The Panthers are playing in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 5. It would be Sunseri's 39th consecutive start, the longest such streak at Pitt in 20 years.

He has become only the fourth quarterback in Pitt history to reach 3,000 yards passing (3,103). His streak of 270 passes and 9 14 games without throwing an interception remains intact.

Yet, Sunseri's mind is on something he only will observe after he plays his final game: The coach coming back next season.

That hasn't happened at Pitt since 2010. Sunseri, a fifth-year senior, likes the idea.

“This is the first time since I have been here starting that we are going to be able to carry over and use these bowl practices for spring ball,” he said. “The last two years, we have been going to these practices, the offense didn't repeat into spring ball (under new coaches Todd Graham and Paul Chryst). So, it was kind of a waste of those practices.

“That is huge for the young guys. That's huge knowing Coach Chryst is going to be here.”

Pitt (6-6) hasn't found a winning season, but it has stability in Chryst, whose offense has produced a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher (Ray Graham) and wide receivers Mike Shanahan and Devin Street, who have combined for 124 receptions, 1,818 yards and nine TDs.

“They (the Pitt administration) have really brought in a coach, I feel, is going to win championships here,” Sunseri said. “He doesn't miss anything. He is for the players. You can tell that everyone is playing for him. I can't be (happier) that we were able to get him to a bowl game in his first year.”

Sunseri, whose TDs rose from 10 last season to 19 while interceptions dropped from 11 to two, said he gets vital instruction from Chryst and quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger.

“I think Coach Chryst came in and challenged me mentally to understand where the true one-on-ones are, to understand check-downs and not forcing balls (into coverage),” he said. “Coach Chryst is so cerebral, understanding that there is always an outlet.”

He likes the more conventional passing game, too.

“It also helps that whenever you drop back, you don't have to throw in certain areas,” he said, referring to Graham's read-option offense. “You have a little bit more freedom to work the entire field, to really read defenses and play the game.”

Notes: Chryst said he doesn't expect going to the Compass Bowl for the third consecutive season will affect his team's preparation. “Shame on us if that's the case,” he said. ... Pitt will begin practicing this weekend before taking a break for final exams. He said five weeks between games will allow healing for many players who have nagging injuries. ... Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week after recording four tackles for a loss against USF. Punter Matt Yoklic was named to the weekly honor roll.

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

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