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Pitt football spring notebook: Resilient Anthony McKee ready to contribute

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, April 14, 2018, 8:15 p.m.
Gold team running back A.J. Davis with a run during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Gold team running back A.J. Davis with a run during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Former head coaches Johnny Majors and Walt Harris look on during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Former head coaches Johnny Majors and Walt Harris look on during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Gold team running back A.J. Davis leaps out of the tackle attempt by the Blue team's Dane Jackson during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Gold team running back A.J. Davis leaps out of the tackle attempt by the Blue team's Dane Jackson during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi watches as Gold team quarterback Kenny Pickett throws on the run during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Head coach Pat Narduzzi watches as Gold team quarterback Kenny Pickett throws on the run during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Blue team captain Dennis Briggs gets the team fired up before Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Blue team captain Dennis Briggs gets the team fired up before Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
For Pitt head coach Johnny Majors look on during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
For Pitt head coach Johnny Majors look on during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Gold team defensive back Jason Pinnock defends on a pass intended for Blue team receiver Michael Smith during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Gold team defensive back Jason Pinnock defends on a pass intended for Blue team receiver Michael Smith during Pitt's spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.

Pitt linebacker Anthony McKee and guard Connor Dintino were named winners of the Ed Conway Award on Saturday, an annual honor given to the most improved players on each side of the ball during spring drills.

McKee might have laid the foundation for his award well before this spring.

A highly touted recruit from Columbus, Ohio, he redshirted in 2015 and did not appear in any games in 2016.

When he broke his arm and couldn't feel his fingers in the Oklahoma State game last year, he decided that wasn't enough to drive him back to the bench. He just played through it.

Coaches remember such things.

McKee said he recalls a teammate — he thought it was Chase Pine — running into his forearm while trying to make a tackle.

"I had a sleeve on it, and I didn't know (the extent of the injury)," he said. "I thought it was a stinger. My first time going into the game. I can't let that take me out.

"I played another play, and I couldn't feel any of my fingers. From my forearm down, I couldn't feel anything.

"I knew something was wrong, but I've been hurt in games before. (He said to himself), 'It's nothing.' "

When he finally went to the bench, teammate Seun Idowu looked at his arm.

"I still didn't know it," he said. "Seun saw me (and said) 'Your forearm is broken.' "

"I said, 'Dang, it is.' "

As coach Pat Narduzzi described it, "You're talking snapped in half."

McKee missed the rest of the season, but returned this year with a new resolve. He admitted sitting for two years was difficult.

"Sometimes, you have to accept the fact that somebody might be a little better than you, a little faster than you," he said.

"In high school, I made all the plays. I was like the star. But here, I had to accept the role of being a backup. I hadn't been a backup since fourth grade. That put an impact on me I had to get over and put my pride to the side."

Just showing up

Dintino, a senior who is in the process of nailing down a starting job at left guard, caught coaches' eyes by — as he described it — just showing up.

"Wake up every morning and have a great attitude and just go to work," he said. "Being a guy the coaches can rely on and trust."

Pitt's offensive line has changed dramatically with a new position coach, Dave Borbely, and probably three new starters by the time players report for summer training camp.

"I just improved locking in, focusing on the little details. We talk about mental errors, mental errors will get you beat.

"You don't need to be the most talented guy in the room. You just need to be consistent. It's the nontalent things that really set you apart."

Davis' day

A.J. Davis was the busiest running back in the spring game, carrying 13 times for 38 yards.

"He's a slippery guy," Narduzzi said. "He (earned) himself some more playing time. We talk about BYOB, be your own blocker, and he did that today."

Banged-up wideouts

Backup quarterback Ricky Town completed only one of nine passes: a 46-yarder to Michael Smith.

But Pitt's wide receiver group was hampered by injuries that kept Ra-Ra Lopes, Tre Tipton, Aaron Mathews, Dontavius Butler-Jenkins and Shocky Jacques-Louis out of the game. All are expected to return this summer.

"Ricky didn't have much to throw at," Narduzzi said.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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