Pitt football team rallies around its youth
The numbers add up. Truth is hard to ignore.
Pitt will carry a young team into this season that opens against Delaware next Saturday at Heinz Field.
The starting lineup includes 11 sophomores, seven seniors, five juniors and a redshirt freshman. Of the 82 scholarship players, 61 (74 percent) have three years of eligibility remaining. Only 11 are seniors.
Offensive line coach Jim Hueber hears that and immediately reacts, his voice firm and serious. Maybe it's more realistic to expect bigger feats next year, but that doesn't answer the question of now.
“We won't take youth or inexperience as an excuse,” Hueber said. “The guys who don't have game experience or minimal game experience, they have to step up for us in a big way early and continue it through the season.
“We don't need to struggle because of any kind of youth.”
Coach Paul Chryst won't admit it — he always defers to the players in the locker room — but this is finally his team. His unremarkable 13-13 record the past two years was partially the result of somebody else's players.
Now half of the recruits from the 2011 and '12 classes are gone (19 of 38). A total of 49 players (60 percent) were recruited exclusively by Chryst, including eight sophomores who weren't redshirted last year and are part of this season's starting lineup.
“You can't even remotely think that this looks like the same team when we took over (in December 2011),” Hueber said. “Attitude, body type, the way we practice, the way we move around.
“Now will that equate to wins? Time will tell.”
To that end, the seniors are important and won't be ignored by the coaching staff. Four of them — linebackers Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas and defensive end David Durham and safety Ray Vinopal — are valuable pieces on defense. Vinopal and senior offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings are co-captains, voted by their teammates and endorsed by Chryst as two of the hardest workers on the team.
Even backup seniors such as running back Isaac Bennett and wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon will play a role. Bennett is insurance if freshmen Chris James and Qadree Ollison are slow to adapt to the college game: Weatherspoon easily could slide into that third wide receiver spot while the younger pass catchers deal with growing pains.
“It's small in numbers,” Chryst said of the senior class when he spoke Friday at the kickoff luncheon, “but it's got substance.”
Sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik never has started a game in college, but he is a leader by virtue of his position. He respects his elders.
“We have guys who are still here from past regimes,” he said. “They are our leaders. We do feel we have a group (of younger players) we can all rally behind, but we are really relying on the seniors.”
Stirring the mix and forming a winning team is a difficult trick to accomplish. Hueber, who will start sophomores Adam Bisnowaty at left tackle and Dorian Johnson at left guard, said he can't spend an excessive amount of time correcting older players when the young ones need more attention.
“The seniors have to help us, and the young guys have to not ride along,” Hueber said. “They have to get involved right away.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Virginia kicker says parents preached commitment
- Latest loss has Panthers looking for answers
- Pitt notebook: Chryst says Voytik may be overthinking
- Pitt notebook: Cornerback issues emblematic of Panthers’ woes
- Pitt embarrassed by Akron at home, 21-10
- Dedicated preparation not lost on Pitt quarterback Voytik
- Pitt notebook: Akron ground game catches Panthers off guard
- Pitt guard Wright breaks foot, to miss about 10 weeks
- Akron’s Lane Jr. faces dad’s alma mater
- Pitt’s hopes remain high as Akron visits