Pitt's young football stars Boyd, Conner eye victories not awards

Pitt's Tyler Boyd makes a diving catch in front of Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner in the third quarter Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Tyler Boyd makes a diving catch in front of Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner in the third quarter Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, July 7, 2014, 8:54 p.m.

Word spread Monday that Pitt sophomores Tyler Boyd and James Conner were named to watch lists for the Maxwell and Hornung college football awards.

A nice honor for Pitt's two young stars, but not the lead story on the nightly news when you consider 75 names are on the Maxwell list for player of the year and 47 are finalists for the Hornung that recognizes versatility.

“I'm not going to let it get to my head,” Boyd said. “I'm going to keep working so I can win the awards, instead of just being on the list.”

What matters more to Pitt's efforts this season are words recently delivered by senior wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon — and repeated by Boyd, Conner, senior safety Ray Vinopal and sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik — in the team meeting room.

Their messages carried the same theme: There is an urgency about this year's team that some players believe didn't previously exist.

It partially stems from a book — “Today Matters” by John C. Maxwell — that coach Paul Chryst called to the attention of his players.

The book contains messages such as this from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: “When opportunity comes, it's too late to prepare.”

Chryst assigned each player to read the first two chapters and later picked players to talk about the book in front of teammates and write a paper.

Basically, the book carries a theme that can be directly traced to Chryst's coaching philosophy that minimizes talk and emphasizes deeds.

“Everybody put thought into it,” Boyd said. “I feel that should be our team motto: If you talk about it, then be about it.”

Boyd said talk has meant nothing at Pitt in recent years.

“That's pretty much what Pitt has been about for the past two years: Everybody talking like we are going to do something,” he said. “Win this, win that, but you have to prove it.

“If you think you are going to win 10 games and win the ACC championship, let's do it. Let's not talk about it.”

Conner said he was shocked when Chryst asked him to speak about how he could make the team better. But he added, “That meant something.”

The 19-year-old Conner said he feels the need to set an example on and off the field after leading the team last season in rushing yards (799) and touchdowns (eight).

“With me having a little bit of success last year, the freshmen coming in watch me,” he said. “So, I can't be putting the ball on the ground, and I can't be forgetting plays.”

Boyd and Conner are leaders at their positions, but incoming freshmen Adonis Jennings at wide receiver and running backs Chris James and Qadree Ollison arrived with plenty of accolades behind them.

“They all can contribute (this season),” Conner said.

Boyd said he has been impressed by what Jennings has shown in informal workouts.“(He) came out just like me in high school, four-star, top-notch receiver. His ball skills are good, his hands are good, his routes are good. Everything is good.

“Once camp comes, we will see where we can really use him, and see how much he is worth to the team.”

Notes: West Virginia safety Karl Joseph and Penn State cornerback Jordan Lucas were named to the Bednarik Award watch list for defensive player of the year. ... Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is on the Maxwell list.

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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