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Pitt safety Vinopal hopes extra conditioning pays off

| Sunday, July 20, 2014, 8:03 p.m.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Pitt senior safety Ray Vinopal said he was almost afraid to count the number of steps he and teammates were required to run this summer when they took their conditioning program to the concrete upper deck of Heinz Field.

“I wouldn't do that to myself,” he said, laughing.

But he said the running program implemented by first-year strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej is forcing players to push their bodies beyond what they thought possible.

“The strength and conditioning program was good under (former) coach (Todd) Rice (who resigned in December). He knew his stuff,” Vinopal said. “But it wasn't necessarily focused on pushing our players to a point where you felt like you were in the fourth quarter of a game; or it's tough and how are you going to perform when you feel that way? You feel fatigued.

“Now, guys are really being challenged and I think it is really going to carry over to the game in the fourth quarter. Now, guys can say on that 10th rep I ran those stadium steps at Heinz, I felt like I couldn't do any more and did five more and I did them as perfectly as I did the first 10.”

• The running program — moved from Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park — is aimed at avoiding problems Pitt experienced late in games last season: In a 24-21 loss to Navy, Pitt allowed 10 points in the game's final 3 minutes, 52 seconds. Pitt entered the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech facing only a 14-10 deficit, but was scoreless the rest of the way and lost, 21-10. After rallying to tie North Carolina, Pitt allowed Ryan Switzer to return a punt 61 yards for a game-deciding touchdown with 4:46 left.

• Sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who joined Vinopal at ACC media days Sunday, is featured on the team's media guide, along with greats from Pitt's past, including Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett and Johnny Majors.

• Vinopal is one of only 11 Pitt seniors. “It's a bunch of good guys who are into football,” he said. “That's the big, important thing. The reason why it is so small (was) there were some other guys who may have not been so into football and those guys only bring you down in the locker room.”

• Vinopal said Pitt's talent is on a par with any team in the ACC. “Where you see the difference is execution,” he said. “Who is making the fewest mistakes? When we are not making mistakes, we are just as good as anybody we've played.”

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