Pitt sophomore Coles leaves football team

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 6:24 p.m.

When sophomore cornerback Trenton Coles left the Pitt team Wednesday, it wasn't the first time the thought crossed his mind.

Clairton coach Wayne Wade, who was an assistant there when Coles was in high school, said his former player was thinking about leaving this year after spring drills when Titus Howard was ahead of him on the depth chart.

“He thought he should have been starting,” Wade said.

But after Howard was suspended, Coles decided to stay and, in fact, ascended to the No. 1 unit early in training camp.

In recent weeks, however, Coles hurt his ankle and was practicing with the second team while sophomore Reggie Mitchell and freshman Avonte Maddox played well on the first team.

Now Coles' departure may lead Mitchell, a transfer from Wisconsin, to a starting job at cornerback when the season opens Aug. 30.

Before his injury, Coles was showing as much spirit as anyone on the team and was involved in a brief altercation with wide receiver Dontez Ford on Aug. 9. At the time, coach Paul Chryst and secondary coach Troy Douglas defended Cole's “passion” for the game.

But Douglas said this week that Coles is “a work in progress.”“Got a long way to go. So we'll see what's happening. He's trying hard. I can tell you that. It just doesn't always click. But he's trying, so we have two more weeks.”

Coles, who was entering his third year in the program, played 11 games last season as a reserve, recording nine tackles, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

Within an hour of Chryst announcing Coles had left the team, Wade said three college coaches — he declined to name them — called him to inquire about Coles' situation.

“I appreciate what he's done,” Chryst said. “He wants a fresh start, and we are going to do everything we can to help him get to a good place.”

The loss of Coles, Howard and Jahmahl Pardner, who left the team during spring drills, leaves Pitt perilously thin at cornerback. Only junior Lafayette Pitts, who is entering his third season as a starter, has game experience at the position.

Several ACC opponents run a spread offense, making it especially important for Pitt to develop competent cornerbacks.

The other cornerbacks are former safeties Mitchell and Ryan Lewis and freshmen Maddox and Phillipie Motley. Maddox has impressed coaches with his willingness to play run defense at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds.

Notes: Chryst said the team voted offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings, safety Ray Vinopal and linebacker and special teams ace Nicholas Grigsby as its captains. He said 19 players received votes. ... Senior running back Isaac Bennett, who had shoulder surgery in the spring, said he will be ready to start the season Aug. 30. Chryst agreed, but he still will handle Bennett with care. “He wanted to (hit) a little bit the other day. I said, ‘No.' He said something back, and I said, ‘Still no.' ” ... Chryst said he will name a starting quarterback later this week.

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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