Pitt lineman Juantez Hollins happy he didn't quit after struggles
The thought briefly ran through Juantez Hollins' head, but the Pitt coaches never knew.
After sitting out last season for violating team rules — the third of his first four years at Pitt in which he didn't play a snap — he wondered if football was worth the trouble.
The answer came back in the affirmative, but not before he thought about turning in his playbook.
“Quitting, for real,” he said. “It came across.”
It didn't take long for Hollins to realize he had come too far in his football life to give it up with one season to play.
“I'm not a quitter,” he said. “I wasn't raised to be a quitter. I stuck it out.”
With this season winding down to a crucial two games, including Friday against Miami in the seniors' last game at Heinz Field, coach Paul Chryst is relieved to have Hollins on the field.
Hollins, a 6-foot-5, 330-pound Aliquippa graduate, will make his second start of the season at left tackle in place of redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty, who has a back injury. Chryst is trusting Hollins with the important task of protecting quarterback Tom Savage's blind side.
To his credit, Hollins never took what he called “bad thoughts” to coaches. He went to practice every day and waited for an opportunity.
“I never showed weakness on the field,” he said. “They never knew I wanted to quit, but it was in my head, yeah.”
Hollins, 23, took his concerns home to his mother, Tamika Genes, who reminded him why he was in college.
“When you are not playing as a senior, you know it's your last year, you have a lot of bad thoughts,” he said. “But having my mom and my parents behind you (helped). (She said), ‘Don't let it get to you. Just try to finish school. That's the main thing.'
“At the end of it, you are going to need that degree. I just thought, you got suspended the year before and you didn't leave. You stayed. You might as well stick it out. It would be stupid to quit in your senior year.”
Hollins, who started four years at Aliquippa, didn't play during his first two seasons at Pitt.
That was difficult, but he never lost faith in himself.
“I knew, eventually, my number would be called,” he said.
Hollins started eight games as a sophomore in 2011, but his next opportunity didn't arrive until the North Carolina game Nov. 16. Freshman Dorian Johnson started that game for Bisnowaty, but coaches opted for Hollins' experience in the second half.
“I thought at the time that Juantez would give us a little bit better chance,” Chryst said.
Johnson's opportunities stretch as far as 2016. Hollins' chances are limited and, perhaps, more valuable to him.
To that end, Chryst said Hollins has approached this final opportunity the right way.
“His actions seem to be good, like he is truly embracing it,” he said. “Like you hope and like you should.”
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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