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Starkey: Pitt's new QB mighty intriguing

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The new quarterback will be the major storyline when Pitt opens spring practice March 16. It's a juicy one.

Redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik has provided just enough material to make you wonder if he might be something special — or at least the kind of entertainer Pitt rarely has at the position.

The tape on Voytik includes only last year's spring game and the second half of the Little Caesars Bowl. So the competition — Pitt and Bowling Green — wasn't overwhelming. But give him this much: He makes a wonderful first impression and an even better second one.

Voytik completed 27 of 33 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. He engineered a dramatic comeback win in the bowl game. That gave him one more comeback win than Tino Sunseri provided in three years.

But it wasn't just the victory. It was the way the 6-foot Voytik played. He looked like Johnny Manziel. He coolly sidestepped a defender in the end zone to make a first-down throw. He used his 4.53 speed to race 19 yards up the sideline on a designed run. He unleashed a 62-yard bomb to Tyler Boyd despite a self-described “average” arm. He displayed a quick release. He scored on a 5-yard bootleg.

It's easy to forget Voytik was a four-star recruit out of Cleveland, Tenn., good enough to get invited to the prestigious “Elite 11” quarterback camp in Malibu, Calif. He was the guy Fraud Graham hand-picked to run his spread offense.

That was before Graham put the hammer down and bolted for Arizona State. Voytik wondered whether he should transfer to another school. His impulse was to go. New coach Paul Chryst changed his thinking. Voytik knew of Chryst's work with another undersized quarterback, Russell Wilson, and opted to stay.

Voytik spoke about all of this a few days ago at Pitt's South Side football offices. He sounded wise beyond his years.

“I said all along I came to Pitt for more than just the football aspect,” he said. “As we know, college football is a business. Say you go to a different school. What's telling you that coach won't leave?”

Voytik believes Chryst will allow him to play the position creatively, and the playbook will include plenty of designed quarterback runs — something rarely seen in these parts. Voytik can't wait to get started with an offense that should include a variety of weapons, starting with Boyd.

“I think I'm better off in this offense with Coach Chryst teaching me than I would have been in more of a Todd Graham-style offense,” he said. “I can honestly say that.”

Say this, too: The kid operates with a chip on his shoulder. He grew up a big Tennessee fan but never got an offer from that school, despite being the No. 1-ranked quarterback in the state.

“It was my dream,” Voytik said. “I'm a little bitter I didn't have the opportunity to explore that option. I'm not like holding a picture of Smokey (Tennessee's mascot) and getting mad every night, but it's definitely back there somewhere.”

The mission now is to build excitement around a Pitt program that has generated such little buzz that it moved its spring game to high school stadiums in recent years and now has canceled it altogether.

Voytik knows. He hates the sight of a half-empty stadium. He pauses to consider most of his answers but replies quickly and firmly when asked if he wonders what it would be like to play in front of packed houses.

“Yeah, and I told myself, ‘We need to change this,' ” he said. “I've been to the Tennessees and Alabamas with 100,000-plus people. I've been to an Alabama spring game with 102,000 people. We just need to bring the excitement to fill the stadium.”

An entertaining quarterback would be a large step in that direction.

An electrifying one would be a guarantee.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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