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Pitt's Gonzalez finally finds a home at linebacker

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 7:39 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt LB Anthony Gonzalez gones through tackling drills during practice on Wednesday August 21, 2013.

Pitt outside linebacker Anthony Gonzalez couldn't be blamed for feeling a little sad about leaving his first love.

“Everybody loves playing quarterback,” he said.

It's the glamour position, attracting attention from coaches, teammates, opponents and fans.

“You have the ball in your hands every play,” he said.

Gonzalez played the position well at Liberty High School in Bethlehem, leading his team to a PIAA Class AAAA championship and accumulating yardage (5,311) and touchdowns (61) at staggering levels.

Former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt recruited Gonzalez as a quarterback, and his successor Todd Graham used him as — of all things — a wildcat quarterback. He scored a touchdown from that perch in 2011 against Syracuse.

But coach Paul Chryst, as conventional as any coach in Pitt history, has no use for the wildcat formation. But he has plenty of use for Gonzalez, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior who has found a home as a potential playmaker at outside linebacker.

“He's a smart football player, and he obviously has some talent,” Chryst said.

Gonzalez has embraced the position, although he had some early doubts.

“After my first year, I was skeptical,” he said. “(At quarterback), you get to make plays. There is no better feeling than that. That's why I wanted to come in and play quarterback.

“It just hasn't worked out for me, and it's time to move on.”

Gonzalez has played four positions at Pitt, including safety and H-back, but he made the permanent move to strong-side linebacker late last season, starting for the first time in the BBVA Compass Bowl. He starts on the weak side, but Chryst said he is comfortable putting Gonzalez at either position.

Gonzalez said his experience at quarterback helps him on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

“You know where the quarterback wants to go,” he said. “Knowing when you have help and when you don't.”

If Chryst hadn't been developing depth at several positions — something Pitt lacked in recent seasons — he wouldn't have had the luxury of moving Gonzalez to a position where he is a better fit.

For example:

• Gonzalez wasn't needed at quarterback because Pitt recruited Tom Savage and Chad Voytik, with two more coming in the Class of 2014.

• Good numbers at cornerback allowed Chryst to move Cullen Christian to backup safety behind starters Jason Hendricks and Ray Vinopal.

Chryst can thank Clairton's program for much of that depth in the secondary.

Trenton Coles and Titus Howard (cornerback) and Terrish Webb (safety) are practicing well, the coach said.

“They have a great work ethic,” Chryst said. “The moments aren't getting too big for them.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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