Pitts, Williams provide Pitt's secondary aggressive demeanor
Pitt cornerbacks K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts have all the skills necessary to survive in college football.
They can run and jump with the top wide receivers, anticipate what's coming next from the quarterback and stay mentally strong when times are tough.
But no characteristic is more important than the one they have held the longest. Indeed, it's been a major part of their upbringing: An angry demeanor on the field.
“If I had a bad day, (the football field) was the place to express my feelings,” said Williams, a senior who never redshirted. “This is my sanctuary.”
Pitts said his attitude developed in his hometown of Duquesne.
“Growing up, that's how I was raised,” said Pitts, a sophomore from Woodland Hills. “Just kind of take everything because nothing is going to be given to you. When you have an opportunity, you have to try and take it because somebody next in line is going to try to take your spot.”
Williams and Pitts return to their starting spots in the secondary, joining senior strong safety Jason Hendricks and junior free safety Ray Vinopal. Together, they comprise the most experienced unit on the team, with a total of 63 starts.
“We have some guys who have played a lot of football,” coach Paul Chryst said.
Williams grew up on the rough streets of Paterson, N.J., not far from former Pitt running back Ray Graham's hometown of Elizabeth.
“A lot of violence, a lot of stuff,” Williams said of Paterson. “Just hard to stay focused, but I stayed focused and I did what I had to do. It's hard to make it out of there and I'm just one of those guys (that made it).”
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Williams slipped onto the Pitt team largely unnoticed, but he played in 10 games with one start as a freshman in 2010.
“I was under-recruited,” he said. “You know how the recruiting is. It's a hype thing.
“I came in real hungry. I had that chip on my shoulder. I just put myself in the right place to make it hard for the coaches not to start me.”
Williams played in 23 games in his first two seasons, with only one interception. But 2012 was a breakout year, with four interceptions. He saved his best plays for the most crucial moments, picking off passes in the end zone against Notre Dame and Syracuse.
Pitts started all 13 games last season as a redshirt freshman — the only player to do that on defense — but he wasn't always pleased with the results.
He led the team with nine pass breakups and had a 34-yard interception return against Rutgers, but he expected more from himself.
“I could have made more plays than I did,” he said. “There were a couple times I could have had interceptions, (but) I didn't trust myself as much.
“It was kind of new to me, but growing and getting more mature and having more confidence to make more plays is going to be a big factor this year.”
Pitts credits much of his early success with lessons learned at Woodland Hills, one of the WPIAL's top Class AAAA programs where players are required to attend workouts throughout the year.
“Everything is run as a college system,” he said.
Woodland Hills and four-time state champion Clairton have more graduates on the Pitt team (five each) than any other high school. With 12 percent of the scholarship players coming from two schools, the players have built a rivalry inside the locker room, which is OK with Pitts.
“We talk about it all the time,” Pitts said. “Because I'm from Duquesne and that used to be a (Clairton) rival, we tell them all the time they probably wouldn't have gotten all those state rings if Duquesne was still open.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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