Pitt quarterback Sunseri leading by example
The voice did not come from the lips of a coach, but it carried the unmistakably firm tone of authority. The entire Pitt offensive unit circled respectfully around the speaker and listened intently.
At the center of the group was quarterback Tino Sunseri, who called a brief meeting Friday during practice after wide receiver Devin Street caught a touchdown pass and brazenly handed the football to cornerback K'Waun Williams.
It wasn't the most flagrant example of taunting in football history, but Sunseri wanted to remind players under his command that everyone — offense and defense — is pulling for the same goal.
His message was to ignore the trash talk that became an inevitable by-product of Pitt's first practice in full pads and get on with the business of preparing for the season.
"You hand the ball to the official and get to the sideline," he told the players.
The meeting took less than 20 seconds, and everyone went on to the next drill.
Among the listeners was Pitt quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge, who nodded in approval at the players' respect for their quarterback.
"I have been in this business for 26 years," said Dodge, who led Southlake Carroll (Texas) High School to four state championships, "and I have never had a team that was really, really good that the quarterback wasn't really respected.
"It's those little things that gain respect. You don't get it just because you have quarterback beside your name."
Sunseri, entering his second season as a starter, has seized and embraced a leadership role on offense that he said was previously held by former players Jason Pinkston, Jon Baldwin and Henry Hynoski.
"I felt like with those guys departing that I did enough last year where I could step into the huddle and look people in the face and kind of direct them," he said, "and they are listening."
Dodge said part of the role of a leader involves what he calls "taking the bullet."
"When a mistake happens, (you say), 'Hey, that one is on me,' even if it wasn't his fault. After a while, your teammates know you are a standup guy."
Last year, after throwing an interception, Sunseri might have chastised himself in a loud show of self-deprecation. This year, he walks to the sideline, wraps an arm around a teammate and quietly discusses the situation.
"One thing I wanted to make sure I did — and coach (Todd) Graham and coach Dodge made sure I did - was I never let them see me sweat," Sunseri said. "Make sure you are a stone, you are the face, you are a rock. Whenever the bombs are going off ... they can come up to you and expect you lead them down the field to that next score."
That attitude took root in the offseason when Sunseri led the group in weightlifting, running and pitch/catch workouts.
"That's where I think I really earned their (respect)," Sunseri said. "Making sure they saw me out there. If I wasn't the first one, I was trying to be the first one in every drill, trying to make sure I was lifting and running harder than anybody else.
"They saw me putting in the time and effort. I earned (respect) this summer and it carried over into camp."