Palko still confident he will make impact
At the conclusion of Pitt football practice Tuesday, the Panthers ran through a torturous number of wind sprints, causing some players to double over and others to struggle to finish.
Tyler Palko never flinched. The sophomore from West Allegheny High School led each run by at least five yards. He was the leader of the pack.
"That's me, that's who I am," Palko said. "It's what I'm all about."
Palko is putting his best face forward, despite news last week that he had been demoted from second-team to third-team quarterback, behind senior starter Rod Rutherford and redshirt freshman Luke Getsy, the player Palko beat out last season.
Coach Walt Harris, whose 11th-ranked Panthers play Ball State at Heinz Field on Saturday, will try to redshirt Palko. Palko has accepted the decision, but still burns to lead the Panthers.
"I know I can be a starter at this level," Palko said. "I can win games for any Division I college. And I'm going to play and win games for the University of Pittsburgh. That's why I came here. When I signed, I said we're going to win games, go to bowl games and win a national championship."
Asked if he's national championship ready, Palko was quick with a response.
"You can count on that," he said. "And that's plural, too. National championships."
Palko, the gem of Pitt's 2002 recruiting class, finds himself in an uncertain situation. He's currently backing up a player who not only is equal to him in academic year, but who is also gaining more experience with each practice and each game.
Getsy started against Kent State on Saturday in place of Rutherford, who served a one-quarter suspension, and gets the majority of the snaps with the second team.
Moreover, Penn Hills High School star senior Anthony Morelli enters the mix next season. The Panthers received an oral commitment last month from Morelli, considered by most scouting services to be one of the top five quarterbacks in the nation.
Morelli could feasibly fight for a starting job as soon as 2004. Palko is fully aware of that, but he also knows that the best-laid plans often go astray. Many believed he would beat out Rutherford last season.
"All I can say is that I've been in Anthony's shoes," said Palko, who played in six games last season and completed 2 of 3 passes for 13 yards. "I'm going to talk to him and give him some advice. ... It's going to be hard for Anthony, he's going to have a lot of pressure. But he'll come in, do a great job and not skip a beat. I'll help make sure of that."
Palko had no input on Harris' decision to try to redshirt him. He got the news from Harris during a sit-down meeting.
"Obviously, no one likes to hear that they're not going to play," said Palko. "But an immature person would sit aside and say, 'This stinks, I don't want to do this.' A mature person comes in and lets his teammates know that he's still preparing and working his (tail) off for them. And, hopefully, down the line, it will work out."
Throughout training camp, Harris said Palko and Getsy were neck-and-neck. Palko looked more comfortable than he did a year ago, when a swollen hand slowed his progress in training camp, and displayed an ability to move around in the pocket, while also unleashing livelier passes than he had before.
"I thought I did the things the coaches wanted me to do, but it wasn't in my plan," Palko said. "It didn't surprise me how well I played. I put time into it. You guys (the media) can argue who played the best. I know how well I played. I know the things I need to correct and the things I need to get better."
Harris said that it wasn't a matter of Getsy playing better than Palko. He simply said he preferred to have Getsy as his No. 2 quarterback "for now," leaving the door open for Palko to move ahead, even as the starter if Rutherford were to miss an extended period.