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Gorman: Pitt's Stull has turned jeers to cheers

| Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009

Funny thing about Pitt having a bye on Halloween: The one time it's appropriate to boo, its fans have neither a valid reason nor an easy target.

Not with the way Bill Stull is playing.

The fifth-year senior quarterback has led the No. 16 Panthers to a 7-1 start, their best since 1982. His 161.1 pass efficiency leads the Big East and ranks third in the nation, and he has been named to the midseason watch list for the Manning Award and a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award.

Stull is even being discussed as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

"I don't even know if I could've dreamed it being like this," Stull said.

Not when an unforgiving crowd was unwilling to let go of his struggles in the Sun Bowl, booing on his first series of the season opener. Not when Pitt fans chanted for Stull to be replaced by Tino Sunseri as the starter before the redshirt freshman ever took a snap in a college game.

For this, Pitt fans should be embarrassed. To his credit, Stull blocked out the boo birds to become one of the feel-good stories of college football.

"I've kind of become immune to it," Stull said. "I know if I let that get in my head, if I let that sink into my heart and, most important, if I start buying into what these people are saying, then I can't play the type of football that I know how to play, that I've been taught how to play."

What Stull can't help but notice is how the negativity has affected his family. The cascade of catcalls has prompted his parents, Bill and Debbie, to leave their seats and watch games from a rotunda at Heinz Field this season.

Bill Stull Sr. has been so bothered by the booing that he left the Backyard Brawl last year at halftime - after his son threw an interception in the end zone - and walked home to Mt. Washington. He left the Connecticut game Oct. 10 for the same reason, watching the fourth quarter at Bettis Grille 36.

"It's a shame I can't even have my family members come and sit behind my bench, so I can wave to my mom and say 'Hi' so she can hear me," said Stull, which is as close as he'll come to complaining. "I don't think that's right. I don't wish that upon any college football player - ever."

That UConn game marked a turning point for Stull, who led a comeback from a 15-point deficit for a 24-21 victory that caused the cheers to overtake the jeers. It's about time, considering Stull is 15-5 in two seasons as Pitt's starter and has the Panthers in position to win the Big East title.

During the darkest moments, Stull turned to Seton-La Salle coach Greg Perry, his high school quarterback coach and confidante. Perry warned Stull that he would be remembered here not for becoming the first WPIAL player to throw for 3,000 yards in a season but by how he performed at Pitt this fall.

Put the time in, Perry advised.

Stull did just that, from film study to perfecting his passing.

"I don't think his psyche was ever shot," Perry said. "He could have tanked this thing unbelievably. Something in him clicked. He wanted this."

Perry credits first-year Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti for instilling confidence in Stull. Cignetti was immediately impressed by Stull's ability to make every throw and customized the offense to play to his strengths.

Most importantly, Cignetti offered words every quarterback needs to hear, especially before they hit rock bottom: Eventually, you'll have your time. You're a lot better quarterback than people give you credit for.

That's something to which Stull detractors can't say boo.

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