At age 23, Tre Tipton might be approaching the end of his football career. He knows it, accepts it and doesn’t regret it.
But before he gets there, he has work to do, goals to reach and, he hopes, some fun to experience on Pitt football game days.
Tipton, a fifth-year senior from Apollo-Ridge, is one of three wide receivers (along with Maurice Ffrench and Taysir Mack) listed as starters for the opener Saturday against Virginia at Heinz Field.
Of course, he has visions and aspirations of advancing to the next level, but there are no guarantees. So he’ll treat the next 12 games and three months like they’ll be his last looking at life through the crossbars of a football helmet.
“Every single moment you have to cherish,” he said, “from every practice to every meeting to every note that I take. There is no next year.
“It’s a lot scary. It’s one of those things I thought about, ultimately, a lot. But also I try not to think about it too much and just let it be in God’s hands. I’m going to follow His plan.”
The time is right for Tipton to make an impact on a team that needs dramatic improvement in its passing game. But it has been Tipton’s time at some point during each of the past four years.
He played four games as a freshman before suffering a season-ending injury and redshirting. In 2016, another injury cost him his season after nine games.
Then, in 2017, a summer bike accident cost him his redshirt sophomore year.
Last season, he played in all 14 games but started only two while making five receptions, bringing his career total to 17 for 184 yards and one touchdown.
Confronted with his last chance, he wants to make the best of it.
“I’ve been grinding hard all summer,” he said.
His efforts have earned Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi’s trust and praise, which is all a player needs at the outset of the season. Keeping it, however, is always more difficult than gaining it.
“He’s been special,” Narduzzi said. “Chris Beatty (wide receivers coach), I give him credit for hugging him up, bringing him in, getting every ounce of talent we’ve got out of him.
“I think he’s going to make a lot of big plays. He’s running routes better than he ever has.”
Tipton accepts the encouragement from his coach, but he knows it’s only words if he can’t back them up with actions.
“It means a lot, but in the same sense, we still have a mission to accomplish,” he said.
That mission is to make Pitt’s passing game into a force that can complement a ground game that lost two 1,000-yard runners.
“We don’t have to do it more, just better,” Narduzzi said. “Tre Tipton is part of that ‘Let’s do it better.’
“When we throw the ball, run a perfect route, put the ball where it’s supposed to be, get it out of our hands on time. Those are the keys. It’s not how many times or how fancy it looks.”
Tipton said he tries to enhance his route-running ability by “being a thief.”
“I look at what other receivers are doing,” he said, referencing Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. “You take what they’re doing, and you try to make it your own.”
He said he depends on his eyes to tell him what to do.
“You have to pay attention to what way the DB’s moving and what ways do you need to put him in the worst situation possible,” he said. “I’ve been really focusing on that and how my eyes let me move in and out of my routes.”
He said he likes those moments when the defensive back doesn’t know where the receiver is going.
“It’s the funniest thing ever,” he said. “You don’t want to be cocky about it, but you (say), ‘Oh, yeah, I got him.’
“It makes you feel good about yourself and makes you work, and it makes you want to consistently find ways to get back to that point.”
Tipton brings more than athleticism to the game. He has a bachelor’s degree in communication and is taking graduate courses in Pitt’s School of Social Work. Plus, he started an on-campus program called LOVE (Living Out Victoriously Everyday) in which he helps Pitt student-athletes deal with their problems.
He said he’s a better competitor as one of 15 Pitt seniors because he has increased his football sense.
“Not only competing at a high level, but I’ve also become a lot smarter in how I read defenses,” he said.
Will all that knowledge and competitiveness translate into big plays through the air? That’s a question every Pitt wide receiver must answer. Pitt finished last season ranked 121st of 130 FBS teams in passing yards per game (141.8).
Quarterback Kenny Pickett believes the changes at offensive coordinator and receivers coach made a difference.
“I think it’s night and day from last year,” he said. “(The receivers) bought into coach (Mark Whipple’s) system, and they bought into Coach Beatty and what he’s teaching. The spacing and timing, everything’s there. We just have to go out and execute.”