Freshmen receivers ready for opportunity
Most people involved in the Pitt football program consider it a foregone conclusion that Larry Fitzgerald will petition the NFL to become draft-eligible.
Where losing the All-American receiver could be viewed as a worst-case scenario for the Panthers, two players see Fitzgerald's eventual departure as a window of opportunity.
True freshmen Terrell Allen and Greg Lee know that either one of them could be the next receiver to step into a prominent role in Pitt's passing attack.
"It'll be sad to see Larry go," Allen said, "but it will open more doors for everybody else."
For now, Lee will start opposite Fitzgerald and Allen will back him up when Pitt (8-4) plays Virginia (7-5) in the Continental Tire Bowl on Dec. 27 in Charlotte.
For the sake of the team, neither player wants to see Fitzgerald go pro because of the void it would create in Pitt's high-powered passing offense.
"He was a great teacher and a good motivator," Allen said. "Watching him motivates everybody else. Him leaving will mean a great part of our offense is leaving."
Although Allen and Lee have shown flashes of future stardom, neither has had the type of freshman season Fitzgerald had in 2002, when he started 11 games and had 69 receptions for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Lee began the season as a redshirt candidate, but the Panthers started him against Rutgers when Princell Brockenbrough was injured. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder from Tampa has nine catches for 203 yards (22.6 per catch), including a long of 40 yards.
Allen (6-0, 185) was a heralded recruit from Wellford, S.C., who was expected to contend for the starting spot opposite Fitzgerald. Instead, he was slowed by an early-season hamstring injury.
Although Allen doesn't have any receptions, he has four carries for 36 yards this season. Where he has really flourished is on kick returns, with 24 for 576 yards (24.0). He had a 53-yarder and a 49-yarder against West Virginia, and his longest is a 63-yarder against Miami.
"It's been good," Allen said, "because I didn't get as much playing time as I'd wanted to because of the injury."
If Fitzgerald leaves, Allen and Lee are hoping to be the next in line to play starring roles in Pitt's self-proclaimed reputation as Wide Receiver U.
"I'm definitely looking to be the go-to guy next year, me and Terrell," Lee said. "We want to be the best receiver duo in the nation. We've got our minds set to be the best.
"Larry's shoes are going to be big to fill, but we'll try to do our best to represent."