Pitt freshmen waste no time in getting involved

Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd beats New Mexico's Cranston Jones for a 51-yard catch during the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd beats New Mexico's Cranston Jones for a 51-yard catch during the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 11:28 p.m.

Children grow up quickly these days, and no one knows that better than Pitt coach Paul Chryst.

“I know with my kids, they're a lot more advanced in many ways than I ever was,” said the father of three. “But maybe they get that from their mom.”

Chryst's other family, especially those who comprise his team's freshman class, seem to be aging well.

Twelve freshmen from the Class of 2013 and seven redshirt freshmen have played in the first two games, meaning:

• Chryst wants to win now.

• The older players on the roster need help.

• The freshmen are among the best, if not the best, players at their positions.

“It depends on a lot of variables,” he said, “like who's here already and who are the freshmen. It's your job as a coach to make sure that your best players can play.”

The best playmakers for Pitt have been freshmen.

Tyler Boyd, named Monday as ACC Receiver of the Week and 247Sports National True Freshman of the Week, is averaging 20.3 yards per touch (receptions, kickoff returns and runs). He also stands 16th in the nation and third in the ACC in all-purpose yards (173 per game).

Running back James Conner leads Pitt in rushing (153 yards on 21 carries, 7.3-yard average). Kicker Chris Blewitt, who won the job the minute he arrived on campus, has been perfect on extra-point kicks (eight) and field goals (two). Backup safety Terrish Webb, who was Boyd's teammate at Clairton, has the team's only fumble recovery.

Pitt entered this season needing help at all of those positions.

“I'm glad right now we have a group that can help us,” Chryst said.

Until 1972, when there were no NCAA scholarship limitations, freshmen were ineligible to play. Now, with each school allowed 85 football scholarships, each player is more valuable.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team plays Pitt on Saturday, said rosters used to total more than 200.

“You could have separate freshman practices,” he said. “You can't do that with 85.”

But he admits it's difficult for freshmen to contribute.

“Most of them aren't immediately ready, let's face it,” Cutcliffe said.

Even while playing 12 freshmen, Chryst plans to redshirt more than half of his class (15 of 27).

Sophomore center Artie Rowell, one of five starting linemen who previously redshirted, said mental stress can be tough for freshmen to overcome.

“I wake up. I have this class, go here, go there,” he said. “If you put a lot of energy into that type of stuff and not necessarily just focus on football, it can be taxing.”

Chryst said he knows several good high school coaches who have helped young players with the transition.

“So maybe what freshmen are learning and what they can bring to the table is more advanced,” he said.

Boyd, who has superior athletic ability and a willingness to work, said the game is easier than he expected.

“It's only been two games, but I thought it was going to be way tougher,” he said. “I'm not saying it's really easy, like high school, but I just give all the credit to all the work I put in through the summer and all the help the coaches gave me and all the players helping me succeed.”

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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