Ex-WPIAL stars battle for Pitt's free safety job
While Pitt senior free safety Terrish Webb approaches the final leg of his four-year collegiate career, he remembers two phone conversations that got it started.
It was not long before national letter of intent day in 2013 when he spoke with Clairton teammates Tyler Boyd and Titus Howard, his friends since childhood.
All three had scholarship offers to Pitt. Boyd, the unquestioned star, had verbally committed early in January. It didn't take much coaxing for Webb and Howard to follow him.
“We talked on the phone before signing day,” Webb said this week. “(They said) ‘We might as well all go together and try to change the culture at Pitt, try to make it a better program.' ”
Today, Pitt appears to be in a better place after winning eight games last season for the first time since Webb, Boyd and Howard were high school sophomores. Boyd became the leading pass catcher in Pitt history, leaving early for the NFL this year. Howard, who started two games as a freshman and was suspended for violating team rules a year later, transferred to Slippery Rock where he intercepted four passes last season.
Webb is the last man standing at Pitt.
“I miss playing with those guys,” Webb said. “But they are going on to better things. I still talk to them every day. We are still pushing each other from a distance.”
He said Boyd regularly reminds him to stay focused.
Webb, an under-the-radar recruit who earned a scholarship largely on his spectacular play during Clairton's run to a PIAA championship, is trying to prove he should remain in Pitt's starting lineup. He has started 18 games in three seasons, but he must earn his job one more time over the serious challenge from senior Reggie Mitchell.
“Both are co-starters in my opinion,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Who lines up there for that first play against Villanova (Sept. 3), I don't know.”
Mitchell, who is listed an inch taller (6-foot) and five pounds heavier (200) than Webb, is the more versatile player. Narduzzi said Mitchell also is more physical.
He has an ability to move to strong safety if anything happens to Jordan Whitehead, and Mitchell is challenging incumbent and former Shady Side Academy teammate Dennis Briggs for playing time at nickel back.
Mitchell also can play cornerback in an emergency, cornerbacks coach Renaldo Hill said. Mitchell started eight games there in 2014 after transferring from Wisconsin.
But Mitchell's future is at safety.
“I like having the double depth of having multiple safeties at that position,” said Hill, who is more concerned about getting both players ready than picking a winner at this point.
“We know it's going to be a long season. We know we play teams that use a lot of different personnel and go tempos. We're going to need experience and depth. Those guys are both going to be getting plenty of playing time.”
But the first game is three weeks and a day away. Mitchell has a task of a different sort to complete — his senior speech.
Each senior is assigned a night to speak to the team, and Mitchell knows what he wants to say so well that he said he has no need to write it down or read it.
“It's more speaking from the heart,” he said. “It will be a little bit about adversity, from transferring to injury, letting them know it's never over. Opportunity will come up down the road.”
Mitchell missed eight games last season with a foot injury — he was replaced by Webb — testing his patience and resolve.
“I had all these goals I wanted to achieve,” he said. “I had to put it on the back burner. I had to worry about my foot before anything.
“It put some stuff in perspective. It made me appreciate the team more, appreciate the game more. It's definitely going to make this year more special.”