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Conditioning a priority for Pitt's football team

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pitt nose tackle Myles Caragein grabbed the sledgehammer in his meaty hands like Paul Bunyan looking for an oak tree.

An excited crowd of teammates pushed toward him, their shouts of encouragement piercing the thick, morning air.

With a menacing and eager smile, Caragein swung the hammer onto a loose slab of concrete at his feet, shattering it into jagged pieces. Players cheered and started to joyfully sing a Pitt fight song.

So, ended Pitt's 42-session summer conditioning program Friday morning, the first under new strength coach Shawn Griswold.

Caragein claimed the biggest piece of concrete, holding it like he had won an Oscar.

"That rock symbolizes us conquering the offseason," said Caragein, a senior from Keystone Oaks. "I'll put it in the locker room so my teammates can see it and remember the hard work they put in this offseason."

There are 12 other slabs, Caragein said, embossed with each 2011 opponent's logo: The team will smash the corresponding slab after a victory.

Pitt isn't the only college football team that conditions in the summer heat, but the Panthers believe no one works harder.

"Every week, we are going to be in better condition than (opponents) are from what we are doing over the summer," senior linebacker Brandon Lindsey of Aliquippa said.

In a transition season from Dave Wannstedt to Michael Haywood to Todd Graham, the players believe their efforts since January will help reattach some loose ends.

"We have been working for five years and putting our blood and sweat into this program," Caragein said. "It's time for us to pay it back and bring a championship to the university."

That process begins Aug. 8, with the official opening of fall practice. But, under Griswold's direction, players have been working out four days a week — twice a day on three of those days — since the end of spring drills in April.

Griswold, who was Graham's strength coach at Tulsa, estimated players ran 2,400 yards on some days.

"And not just straight-line stuff," he said.

The goal is to condition their bodies not only to engage opponents but to effectively run Graham's up-tempo, no-huddle offense that he describes with three simple words: "Speed, speed, speed."

"In previous years, we had a huddle and a chance to catch our breath and relax for a few seconds," junior wide receiver Mike Shanahan of Norwin said. "But with this offense, you have to line up and get the signals, get the play (going). We really have no time to rest. This training definitely helps."

Griswold said the honor of smashing the concrete was easily bestowed on Caragein.

"Myles has been our undeniable leader since Day 1 when we got here Jan. 12," he said. "He holds kids accountable. You don't have that many guys in this day and age who say, 'You have to go back and run that (drill) again. That wasn't good enough.'

"Most kids turn a blind eye. They don't want confrontation. They don't want to hold each other accountable because, 'Oh, he may not like me.' Myles is not afraid to stand up and say, 'That is not good enough for us to win a BCS championship.'

"That's unique," Griswold finished. "You can help kids be leaders, but that's in your heart."

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