Past experiences help Pitt's Street develop into team leader
Enthused and determined, Devin Street confronted the opponent lined up across from him.
But the other kid was better, stronger. Street didn't know it, but disappointment lurked just ahead.
In a flash, he was on his back, rolled into vulnerability by a more powerful foe. The first word that came from his lips sounded to his father Ted Street like a long, sad moan:
“When I heard him cry for his mother, I said, 'We aren't doing that anymore,' ” Ted said.
That was 4-year-old Devin Street's last day as a wrestler. But also the final time he let a sport get the best of him.
Baseball, track and field, football — Street, Pitt's fifth-year senior wide receiver, has excelled at them all. Yet, he still cries out, this time not in helplessness, but with conviction as a leader on a Panthers team that desperately needs one.
Street, who will join coach Paul Chryst and defensive tackle Aaron Donald on Sunday and Monday at ACC media days in Greensboro, N.C., knows what he wants for himself and his teammates: More speed, more strength, more polish for the rough road that awaits in the ACC.
Good isn't good enough, he said.
Street can run fast, jump high and catch most footballs that fly near his fingertips. Trouble is, that doesn't make him any different from dozens of other college players.
“Coach (Bobby) Engram (Pitt receivers coach) always tells us, ‘Good is the enemy of great,' ” Street said.
“I put 22 years into this. I don't want to say I'm second-best. I want to say I'm the best.”
Street believes this season will be different from the past two when Pitt was 12-14.
“We have a great bond,” he said. “In previous years, people feared (older players) a little bit. That's not the way it is now.”
Players spend free time playing dominos and ping pong at their South Side practice facility where Chryst had a basketball hoop installed.
“It's a family atmosphere,” Street said.
But there is work to be done, and Street makes sure everyone carries only the loftiest of ambitions.
“We have to work to be great,” he said. “We haven't done that since my redshirt freshman year.”
Street is sixth in career receptions (151) and 10th in yardage (2,047) at Pitt, but his time there hasn't been all roses. Two years ago, former coach Todd Graham publicly criticized Street, who started every game. Ted Street said Graham “belittled and cursed the players out.”
“They were salesmen,” the elder Street said of Graham's coaching staff. “Devin likes to use the word ‘evangelist preachers.' ”
Street said he didn't seriously consider transferring, but he did have questions.
“He had some doubts, because things weren't going as Mr. Graham had said they would,” said Ted Street, who said he first heard rumors of Graham's departure three weeks before it happened.
“I was questioning a little bit what I was doing,” Devin said. “Kind of where I was in life. You know what? I turned to my faith. My dad was there. My mom (Ria) was there, keeping me level-headed.
“My father always told me, ‘Stick everything out.' And look where I am today.”
Street, who was harshly critical of Graham when he left, reflects on that one season today and is grateful.
“It was tough, but I wouldn't trade it for anything,” he said. “I, actually, enjoyed it a little bit, looking back on it. It definitely made me grow up. I learned how to respond to things.”
Street, who weighs 205 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame, grew up lean and slender. He didn't become a good football player until his senior season at Bethlehem Liberty where Ted is the wide receivers coach.
“I felt like I was always the underdog in high school,” said Devin, who had only six receptions as a junior.
Street focused on baseball for much of his younger years. As an 11-year-old, he played on the Lehigh All-Stars that missed going to the Little League World Series by one game, losing to a team from Harlem on a walk-off home run.
When he went to high school, he became an accomplished long jumper, finishing third at the PIAA meet with a leap of 24 feet, 6 inches.
Finally, he decided to concentrate on his favorite sport and spent the summer before his senior year going to football camps. Ted was right by his side.
“He would go to these camps and just tear it up,” Ted said. “He would jump the line (in drills). And when I asked him about it, he said, ‘Dad, if I'm in the back of the line, no one will ever notice me.' ”
Finally, former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt offered him a scholarship and Ted said, “I literally cried on the spot.”
Ted admits he was tough on his son at Liberty, which won a state championship in 2008 when Devin was a senior.
“I decided long ago I would be the one who ruins my kid,” he said. “I was preparing him for what people who didn't love him would do to him.”