Pitt’s Rashad Weaver motivated by 9-year-old cancer survivor
Rashad Weaver didn’t have a long speech prepared Friday for his Pitt teammates before the second day of spring drills. He only wanted a few seconds of their time.
But, to him, what he had to say mattered as much as anything he’ll do this season.
Weaver, a rising junior defensive end from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was one of several Pitt players who participated last month and last year in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Race to Anyplace, a stationary bike event at Heinz Field designed to raise money for blood cancer research.
It was there where Weaver met Lili, a 9-year-old cancer survivor, and her father. Later, Lili’s dad reached out to Weaver to let him know he appreciated the players’ efforts. They are now season-ticket holders.
Weaver said Lili’s dad told him, “Keep fighting and working every day because that’s what (cancer patients) do. They have to fight to survive.”
Friday was Pitt’s last day of drills before spring break, so Weaver wanted to make sure everyone was properly focused and motivated.
“I know they had spring break on their mind, but we need to go out and get that day of work,” he said. “I told them there are people waking up every day who have a harder life than us, so we can wake up and put in the work for them today.”
To the best teams, spring drills are more than a casual exercise meant to keep players busy in the offseason. Weaver wants to use them to generate a sense of urgency. The opener is more than five months away, but it’s an ACC game against Virginia. There’s no FCS cupcake this year.
“The clock’s ticking,” he said. “We’re working toward an ACC game, and it starts right now.”
Weaver, a marketing and finance major, pointed out he’s a senior in the classroom even though he has two years of eligibility remaining, so he feels an obligation to the team.
“I’ve been starting two years now, and it’s my time to step up and make sure we get to the place we’re going,” he said. “Because I know what this defense can do and what the whole team can do.
“I want to make sure we take advantage of that, whether it’s me hyping us up when we need to or me getting on guys when we’re not focused.”
Weaver has earned that right after leading a veteran defense in four categories last season: tackles for a loss (14), sacks (6½), quarterback hurries (10) and fumble recoveries (three).
He also wasn’t happy that last season ended with a three-game losing streak after Pitt won the ACC Coastal Division for the first time. He admitted to being visibly angry after the loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl.
“You can celebrate the Coastal, but that isn’t really anything to me,” he said. “I’m on to bigger and better things, ACC championship, bowl game wins and things after that.”
Weaver said he’s come to peace with the situation but hasn’t forgotten it.
“You can’t stay mad all the time,” he said. “It’s definitely in the back of your mind, motivating you because you don’t want to have that feeling again.”
The spring is a time for Weaver to fine-tune his game, trying to improve his first step off the line of scrimmage — even becoming more violent, he said — no matter how many sacks he recorded. He has seen former Pitt All-American Aaron Donald work on his craft every day, “and he’s the best at it.”
Weaver figures if working on the details are good enough for the NFL’s best defensive lineman, it’s good enough for him.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said Weaver, 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, “brings everything you really want.”
But Weaver wants to be an asset when he steps outside the white lines, too.
“I like being around people,” he said, “and becoming more than just a football player.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .