Stull kicks off senior season against school he cheered as child
A funny thing happened when Pitt played Youngstown State at Heinz Field in 2005. A small section of the stadium let out a cheer when the Panthers sent a true freshman quarterback into the game.
It's nothing new for Pittsburgh fans to love the backup.
This cheer, however, came from the visitors.
It was directed at native son Bill Stull, who grew up in Poland, Ohio — a suburb of Youngstown — before becoming a record-setting passer at Seton-La Salle High School and, later, the starting quarterback for the Panthers.
"When he went in, the Youngstown State fans in the corner cheered," Bill Stull Sr. recalled. "I was so impressed and so happy that they remembered him because the youth football in Youngstown is huge."
Stull, a fifth-year senior, enters his third season as Pitt's starting quarterback in an opener against the same school he played when he took his first college snaps. Youngstown State visits Pitt at 1 p.m. Saturday in the season opener at Heinz Field.
"I was a big YSU fan growing up," Stull said. "I went to a bunch of those YSU games when Jim Tressel was coaching, and they were winning (Division 1-AA) national championships. I remember going there with my family."
Stull was invited to Youngstown State games with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, of which former Penguins coach Jim Tressel - now the head coach at Ohio State - is a member.
"Jim Tressel was a Christian man, and it made a huge impression on Bill," Stull Sr. said. "We're still supporters of Ohio State and Youngstown State, but we're Pitt through and through."
What's remarkable about Stull's story is that his parents left the Youngstown area when, after 25 years as an auto worker at the GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, his father accepted a transfer to the West Mifflin plant in 1998. The family moved to a condominium in Mt. Lebanon when the son was in the sixth grade.
"It was a better job for me, but I came here for Billy - and he did get the opportunity," said Stull Sr., who worked the night shift so as to never miss one of his son's games since the age of 6. "It was a conscious move. First was to get a better job, but our three daughters were grown, and it was an opportunity for Billy to play Western Pennsylvania football."
In his senior season at Seton, Stull became the first passer in WPIAL history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season (3,310) in leading the Rebels to the WPIAL Class AA championship. He verbally committed to Kentucky, but switched to Pitt when Dave Wannstedt was hired as coach.
When Joe Flacco - now the starting quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens - transferred to Delaware, Pitt had no choice but to use Stull, then a 175-pound true freshman, as the backup to starter Tyler Palko. Stull made his debut in that "throwback" game, a 41-0 victory over Youngstown State in '05, when the Panthers wore vintage uniforms.
"It's actually kind of funny," Stull said. "I played three series."
Stull was 1-of-2 for 17 yards against Youngstown State, completing a third-and-8 pass to tight end Darrell Strong to the YSU 43 that set up Tim Murphy's touchdown run on the next play. Stull's only other appearance that season was against South Florida.
After another year as Palko's backup, Stull began the 2006 season as the starter before suffering a season-ending thumb injury on his throwing hand in the opener against Eastern Michigan. Last season, Stull completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,356 yards with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in leading the Panthers to a 9-4 record and the Sun Bowl.
For Stull, playing against Youngstown State is something of a homecoming. His three sisters and two nephews still reside in the Youngstown area, and he spent the week before the start of training camp visiting with them.
Plus, the Penguins could feature Brian Mellott, a senior right guard who was Stull's teammate with the Austintown Colts as 9- and 10-year olds.
The Stulls know it will be odd to see their son starting against Youngstown State - the team he grew up cheering for - but promised that there will be no torn allegiances.
"Billy's still a YSU fan," Stull Sr. said, "just not on that day."