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Wannstedt believes in Pitt's potential

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Dave Wannstedt is getting so used to the youth movement that the Pitt coach cracked he already had made a half-dozen scholarship offers to football campers.

Never mind some were as young as 6.

"It's never too early to start generating positive interest and positive feelings about our football program," Wannstedt said Thursday morning at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex. "This is a good way to do it."

After Pitt's first 10-win season since 1981, Wannstedt knows that the best way to generate positive interest is to keep winning.

The Panthers are being billed as a Big East favorite, thanks to the return of conference offensive and defensive players of the year in tailback Dion Lewis and end Greg Romeus as well as fellow All-America candidates in receiver Jon Baldwin and left tackle Jason Pinkston. They are being counted on to lead a team that has only nine scholarship seniors -- including starters Romeus, Pinkston, end Jabaal Sheard and safety Dom DeCicco -- but has as much depth and talent as any since Wannstedt took over in 2005.

"We have a lot of potential," Wannstedt said. "A year ago at this time, nobody would have been talking about Dorin Dickerson, no one would have been talking about Billy Stull breaking records and no one knew who Dion Lewis was. The encouraging thing is that who they are no one knows but there are three or four guys on our team right now that have the potential to step up and have an impact on our football team. ...

"To have a good team, any year, the guys that are capable of making a difference have to step up and make a difference."

The primary concerns for Wannstedt are on the interior offensive line, which he described as "up for grabs" after the Panthers lost three starters, and at linebacker and cornerback. Sophomore Dan Mason could shore up the middle, while Tristan Roberts is expected to compete with Greg Williams on the strong side. Antwuan Reed has one corner job locked up, but Ricky Gary, Buddy Jackson and Saheed Imoru will compete on the opposite side.

Although Wannstedt doesn't expect many of his incoming freshman to make an immediate impact this fall, he left the door open for former Beaver Falls star Todd Thomas to make his mark, surprisingly enough, on offense.

"I wasn't sure where we were going to put him," Wannstedt said. "We've got him playing wide receiver and the guy is a playmaker. We were thinking about playing him at safety or linebacker, but the plays he's making on offense right now I think we're going to leave him at wide receiver."

Wannstedt also was pleased with the performance of Pitt recruits in the Big 33 Football Classic last weekend, especially after several played pivotal roles in the fourth quarter. Anthony Gonzalez led Pennsylvania to the go-ahead points by connecting with receivers Salath Williams and Drew Carswell before Ohio quarterback Mark Myers led the game-winning drive.

"Hearing the reports from the coaches about the practice sessions leading up to (the game) is probably as valuable or more valuable than the game itself, and we got great reports about our kids on both sides," Wannstedt said. "That made it exciting, it really did."

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