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Pitt quarterbacks get helping hand from graduate assistant

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 11:42 p.m.

Jon Budmayr doesn't pretend that his injury problems at Wisconsin helped Russell Wilson become a star.

Perhaps it appears that way after Wilson ascended to the starting quarterback job in 2011 at the same time Budmayr, the presumed starter, was forced to miss the season because of nerve issues.

“Who knows?” Budmayr said, laughing. “But no.”

Wilson, who led the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl championship last season, probably would have won the job, anyway. More likely, Budmayr's injury history led him to his life's work.

After Brooks Bollinger resigned, Chryst added quarterbacks coach to his job description and hired Budmayr, 23, as a graduate assistant to be his eyes and ears while he is tending to other players.

Chryst, who recruited Budmayr to Wisconsin five years ago, spends much of his time during Pitt's spring drills working with quarterbacks Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson. He can't be everywhere, however, and he trusts Budmayr to fill in the gaps.

“You are always looking for good, young coaches, and I was excited when he said that's what he wanted to do,” Chryst said.

“He's only a few years older than me,” said Voytik, 20. “But he's very intelligent when it comes to football.”

Only 13 months ago, Budmayr was preparing to compete for the starting job at Wisconsin as a fifth-year senior. Midway through winter conditioning, nerve issues that caused two fingers on his throwing hand to go numb three years earlier resurfaced. At that point, he became a student coach under Wisconsin's Gary Andersen.

Chryst hired him after the season.

“It was a nerve issue that was in my body,” said Budmayr, who has had eight surgeries in four years on both elbows, both hips and a knee. “Each time I tried coming back from it, something would pop up,” he said. “Last winter was when I said, ‘You know what? My body had enough.' ”

The transition was seamless. “I thought he did a great job of flipping his focus and channeling it on something else,” Chryst said.

Gravitating toward Chryst was natural for Budmayr, who met him when he was a sophomore at Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock, Ill. Chryst has helped him in many ways.

“The mental approach to things, he helped out big-time,” Budmayr said. “Making everything about getting better each day, always have a focus and don't have any wasted reps, don't have any wasted days … and having a passion for what you do.”

Quarterback drills especially are critical this spring, with Chryst adjusting parts of his offense to fit Voytik's mobility.

“There are definitely a few tweaks here and there,” Voytik said.

He admits Chryst's offense is not easy to learn.

“This is a pro-style offense, full-field reads, not cutting the field in half,” he said, “it takes a while to get a handle on it.”

The hope is that the learning curve won't be as steep with Budmayr's help.

“He knows this offense front and back,” Voytik said. “He has been a huge asset for Trey and I. You can tell he loves it.”

Note: The possibility of college players becoming university employees, forming a union and playing for pay hasn't been a big issue in the Pitt locker room, Voytik said.

“Truthfully, I feel like we are compensated enough,” he said. “We get a free education.”

Junior center Artie Rowell said paying players equally may be difficult.

“You go play for pay and you are going to get into the Johnny Manziels and those guys getting way more money than what I'm going to get,” he said.

Added coach Paul Chryst: “There is so much I don't know about it. I was actually more excited to get on the field (for practice). I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it.”

University officials issued this statement: “The University of Pittsburgh remains committed to the concepts of amateurism and student-athletes that have always been the foundation of our athletic endeavors. We do not believe that treating student-athletes as employees will be beneficial for the students.”

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