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Former Pitt QB Sunseri's career goes north

courtesy of Saskatchewan Roughriders
Former Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri looks for a receiver during a CFL game with the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Thursday, June 20, 2013, against Calgary.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 11:09 p.m.
 

After his Pitt career ended, quarterback Tino Sunseri set one goal for the next stage of his life.

“I didn't want to be sitting on the couch,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I was playing football, no matter what.”

He quickly found work.

Undrafted by the NFL, Sunseri attended a tryout camp this spring with the Baltimore Ravens, who were well-stocked at quarterback and slow to offer a contract. But when the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League called, he jumped at their offer. Brushing aside homesickness and adjustments to a bigger field, fatter ball and 12-man defenses, the Central Catholic product signed and earned a job as the third-string quarterback in a league where the minimum salary is $45,000 (Canadian).

The Roughriders (1-0) play their second regular-season game Friday against Calgary.

“I felt like I belonged the first day I walked in,” said Sunseri, who started 39 consecutive games at Pitt. “They were excited for me to get there and talked about how they were impressed with how I played in college.”

Sunseri, who completed 64.5 percent of his 1,141 collegiate pass attempts, played well enough during the two-game CFL preseason last month that the Roughriders cut Levi Brown, who had been with the team in 2012. The key moment arrived in the first preseason game when Sunseri led Saskatchewan to a game-tying touchdown — a 1-yard flip to DeDe Dorsey — with 54 seconds left in a 31-24 victory against Edmonton.

He was the Roughriders' leading passer in the game, completing 9 of 12 passes for 122 yards and no interceptions.

Roughriders coach Corey Chamblin told the Regina Leader-Post he believed Sunseri, 24, was “a little ahead of the curve at this time.”

“(Sunseri's) dad is a football coach (Sal, linebackers coach at Florida State), and he has been doing it forever, so he understands what it's like to be in the pros,” Chamblin said. “(Tino) has been around it his whole life and (around) top college programs.

“He's very poised, he's very comfortable and I think he's a very smart kid when it comes to learning the playbook. He's able to execute. The two biggest things we wanted to see were communication and execution, and he did them.”

Sunseri said he speaks to his parents every day. Saskatchewan is about 2,100 miles from Pittsburgh.

“The toughest adjustment is being away from the states, being away from everybody,” he said. “You are really going to an area you know nothing about.

“But it's been a pretty smooth transition. I'm enjoying it every day. I'm learning to be a pro.”

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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