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Pitt seniors looking to end careers with bowl game bid

| Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's K'Waun Williams defends on a first-quarter pass intended for Notre Dame's William Fuller on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Pitt defensive starters K'Waun Williams and Shane Gordon came to Pittsburgh from distant locales, miles from home and surrounded by strangers.

Yet they have reached their senior seasons as two of the 20 surviving members of former coach Dave Wannstedt's final two recruiting classes (2009-10). They will leave next year with strong friendships forged through football and memories of hard-won victories and disappointing defeats.

They get a chance to salvage some good fortune in the season's final two games, starting Saturday at Syracuse.

A victory makes Pitt (5-5, 2-4 ACC) eligible for bowl selection; a loss puts the pressure on the Panthers to defeat Miami (7-3, 3-3) next Friday or face an idle postseason for the first time since 2007.

Williams, a cornerback from Paterson, N.J., has been on campus since 2010. He played in 10 games as a freshman, with one start, and never redshirted. He has made 35 starts for three head coaches and four defensive coordinators.

“What a roller coaster it was,” he said.

Gordon, a middle linebacker, arrived in 2009 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., earning a regular position on the defense last year. When he lines up Saturday in the Carrier Dome, it will stir memories of his first start as a redshirt freshman — a 45-14 road victory against the Orange in 2010.

“I was nervous a little bit, but I felt ready,” Gordon said. “Coach Wannstedt was on me, ‘You're ready for this. You're ready for this. You're ready.'

“I played all right.”

That was a winning season, something Pitt has not experienced since then while changing coaches twice.

With so much to lose, Pitt coach Paul Chryst said his team is not desperate, He prefers the phrase “sense of urgency.”

Williams admitted he is a little more focused this week with the season on the line.

“I go a little bit harder,” he said. “Anything I can do to get my team hyped for the last couple times.”

Gordon, who will make his 19th start, has something more on his mind, aside from a bowl bid and winning season. He is seeking redemption for last year's 14-13 loss to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

“When it came down to the end, all (the defense) had to do was stop them and give the offense back the ball,” he said. “And we just couldn't stop them. We owe Syracuse one.”

NOTES: Chryst refused comment on most of his injured players, including offensive left tackle Adam Bisnowaty (back) and left guard Cory King (hamstring), but he said wide receiver Devin Street (ankle) is questionable. If Bisnowaty can't play, Chryst said he has chosen a replacement — either Dorian Johnson or Juantez Hollins — but he refused to name him. “We still have a couple things we're finding out (Thursday),” he said. “I'm not going to talk about it anymore because I don't know exactly.” ... Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was named a finalist for the Nagurski (best defender) and Lombardi (best lineman) awards.

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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