Pat Narduzzi’s tug-of-war teaches Pitt players to finish what they start
Dane Jackson considers the football field his “sanctuary,” a place where he can “leave it all out there.”
But Pitt’s rising senior cornerback has yet to reach fulfillment during this year’s winter conditioning sessions that coach Pat Narduzzi likes to call “fourth-quarter drills.”
No one has challenged Jackson in the tug-of-war since his freshman year, when he teamed with safety Jazzee Stocker to defeat 340-pound nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett.
“But I hope they do,” he said. “I’m up for a challenge, whenever.”
The tug-of-war, undoubtedly, is the most popular activity among players until the footballs come out of the bags Wednesday for the start of spring practice.
Narduzzi matches offensive players against their defensive colleagues in one-on-one tussles officiated by strength coach Dave Andrews.
The defense won five of six Thursday, with cornerback Marquis Williams, linemen David Green, John Morgan and Tyler Bentley, safety/linebacker Phil Campbell and wide receiver Michael Smith recording victories.
Running back A.J. Davis dropped the rope prematurely, thinking he had won, but the joust wasn’t over. Campbell was declared the winner while Davis dived unsuccessfully for the rope.
“That’s what these fourth quarters are all about,” Narduzzi said, “the discipline, finishing every drill. If you don’t finish, you lose. That was a great learning experience for him.”
Center Jimmy Morrissey was forced to sit out the tug-of-war as he recovers from ankle surgery.
He watched closely and figured out why the offense lost.
“The defense was smarter,” he said. “They dropped their hips and kept their feet moving. Our guys just tried to plant and hold. ”
The tug-of-war begins on Narduzzi’s whistle and while players on both sides shouted encouragement, the coach remained calm while trying not to get run over.
“I just want to watch them compete, look in their faces and see what they got,” Narduzzi said. “The kids are working hard.”
Narduzzi and his staff must teach plenty of lessons. Seventeen seniors left after winning the ACC Coastal championship, but the season was somewhat unfulfilled with a 7-7 record and season-ending three-game losing streak.
Jackson said the goal this season is to be “better than last year.”
That quest begins while running through cones, pushing weights up and down the field, tugging repeatedly on a fire hose and sprinting whenever the coaches say so. Until the official start of spring drills, footballs are not permitted on the field if coaches are present, according to an NCAA rule.
“We try to pay attention to details out here, whatever it is,” Narduzzi said. “The way you stand on our commands when we say, ‘ready and hit.’ Trying to get them in the rhythm of doing the right thing all the time.”
Jackson, already a two-year starter, said the test is more mental than physical.
“You’re able to do it physically,” he said. “Now, it’s just about, can you get through one more (drill) and help the team out? Who’s going to last? This brings the most out of any guy. Who’s going to fight to the end?”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .