Persistence pays off for trio of Pitt offensive linemen
Pitt’s Connor Dintino has the size and strength necessary to succeed on the offensive line. He’s 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, and when he stands upright and isn’t smiling, he looks like someone who should be protecting the president.
Dintino also has a mind that already has earned a degree in finance and marketing and is leading him toward an MBA from Pitt’s Katz Graduate School of Business.
Better than all of that, however, is his honesty.
Just the other day after practice, he admitted it was difficult over the past four years standing down and letting others play. Especially, after the spring of 2017 when he looked like Pitt’s next starting center, a job that eventually went to Jimmy Morrissey.
“There have been tough times. I can’t lie,” Dintino said. “I had my head down at times. But you wake up and you know, 'Hey, I gotta go to work.’ ”
Hard work has paid off for Dintino, a fifth-year senior who looks like he will be the starting left guard this season.
“Fifth camp,” Dintino said. “Kind of surreal.”
Asked to describe what has brought him to this point after he was one of the top high school football players in Connecticut in 2013, he answered simply, “Persistence.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how to describe my time here at Pitt,” he said. “You get a chance, and it doesn’t work out and you keep working for it. It’s those opportunities that keep making you push forward through difficult times.”
Dintino has been a defensive tackle and fullback — he even started a game as a sophomore in 2016 — before moving permanently to the offensive line last year.
“Sometimes, I’ve had smaller roles on this team,” he said. “I hope to roll into a bigger role. That’s been a thing for me, doing what’s best for the team. We talk about that. Kind of giving back to this university that has done so much for me.”
Many college players in similar circumstances have decided to transfer, but Dintino kept extinguishing those thoughts.
“I think it’s being around good people,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I think he had a relationship with a lot of people here at Pitt, not only the coaches, but, obviously, his teammates.”
Narduzzi also credited first-year offensive line coach Dave Borbely.
“I think Coach Borbely had a big effect there,” he said. “If you deep down asked (Dintino), he may be gone if coach Borbs had not come in and he felt like, 'Wow, I like this freshness.’ That’s how you keep them around, with good people and good coaches.”
Dintino is joined by two other newcomers on the offensive line: right guard Mike Herndon (6-4, 310) and left tackle Stefano Millin (6-5, 300). Both are fifth-year seniors who bring the experience on and off the field Narduzzi seeks in his players.
Herndon’s situation is similar to Dintino’s, with coaches bouncing him between offense and defense. He was on offense three years ago and moved to defense in ‘16 to ease depth concerns, even recording a sack against Georgia Tech.
Last year, he started the Syracuse game at right guard but recorded three tackles against Virginia Tech and a pass breakup in the upset of Miami.
What if a defensive coach comes calling this year?
“If it happens, it happens, but I don’t think I’m going to let that happen this year,” he said.
Millin, a left tackle whose job is protecting quarterback Kenny Pickett’s blind side, is a graduate transfer who decided to use his final year of eligibility at a Power 5 after starting 30 games at Kent State. Narduzzi saw a void on the line and used the transfer pool to fill it.
“We would play all the Power 5 teams, but we weren’t one of them,” Millin said. “Now, I’m part of that. I always believed I could play at this level. Coach Narduzzi, he obviously believed it, too.”
Five years ago, Pitt’s recruiting staff, under the direction of then-coach Paul Chryst, sent a summer camp brochure to Millin, who lives in Massillon, Ohio. Millin took the bait, but Chryst never reeled him in.
“I actually came to camp here in June of 2013,” Millin said. “That was about it. Went to the camp, never heard back from them. Went to Kent, and here I am.”
Narduzzi has no qualms about using a non-Power 5 player to protect his quarterback.
“I saw him play against different teams that you respect,” he said. “Kent State’s a good football team. There is so much parity in college football. That guy was playing really good football in the (Mid-American Conference).
“That was an easy projection. We had no doubts that guy could come in here and play for us right now.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.