Bachman catches Wannstedt's eye
Until he started working full-time with the second-team offensive line, Pitt freshman tackle John Bachman felt like he needed track shoes more than cleats for practice sessions.
"Before, I was running with the scout team," Bachman said. "They'd call me, and I'd have to sprint over to run some second-team reps. Then, I'd have to run back to the scout team."
Bachman paused and laughed.
"That was rough. I felt like I was on the cross country team."
Bachman's hustle as he navigated the practice field likely impressed coach Dave Wannstedt. But what really caught Wannstedt's eye was how well the rookie performed when matched up against the team's veterans.
"He's done a couple of things that (offensive line coach) Paul Dunn and myself were surprised that (to see) a freshman offensive lineman could do, as far as handling stunts," Wannstedt said. "He's a smart guy and he's athletic. He's going to be one heck of a football player."
Bachman, a former standout at Moon Area High School, was supposed to take a redshirt this season. But his rapid progress and immense potential made Wannstedt re-think that plan.
Three weeks ago, Bachman made his collegiate debut against Cincinnati.
The Sunday before the game, Wannstedt told Bachman he wanted the freshman to get some playing time as the backup to left tackle Charles Spencer.
"The coaches discussed how they wanted to get me in to get some experience," Bachman said. "It was kind of up to me ... well, I'm not sure how much it was up to me. I always told the coaches, if they call my number, I'm not going to say no."
Still, before he gave Wannstedt a final answer, Bachman called his parents.
"I told them they needed to get some tickets for the away games now, too," he said, laughing.
Mostly, Bachman wanted to get some advice from his father, David, who played football at Colgate in the late 1970s. Bachman did not want to burn his redshirt year if it meant getting minuscule playing time in the final half of the season.
"At the same time, if I get 20 or so plays a game, that's 100 plays I wouldn't have had," Bachman said. "It's a risk I'm taking. But I'm not thinking about anything negative right now. It's all positive, all (about) how can I get better and how this can help me."
Bachman's dad gave his OK, and the new plan went ahead.
"Without him supporting it, I wouldn't have felt right about it," Bachman said. "I know the coaches are supportive, but I needed some ... I mean, he's my dad. That's another level of trust. So, his support put me over the edge."
Bachman got a bit of playing time in the Panthers' 38-20 rout against Cincinnati. He had his obligatory "freshman moment," stepping to his left on a zone-blocking play that was designed to go the other way.
"I looked to my right, and I was like, 'Oh, God. That will be in the bloopers,' " he said, grinning. "But that was the only mental (mistake) I had the entire game, which isn't bad."
Bachman graded out at 78 against Cincinnati, and had a pair of pancake blocks.
"I didn't think it would happen," he said. "My biggest concern was not giving up any sacks. Right now, that's the area I need to work on the most. Transitioning from left tackle in high school to left tackle in college ... I can't even put into words how much different it is."
Bachman has not gotten a lot of on-field work the past two games. But he knows the experience he gains now will pay off in the long run.
Spencer will move on after this season, meaning Bachman could be one of the protectors for lefty Tyler Palko. In 2007, if right-hander Bill Stull is the quarterback, Bachman's role at left tackle will be even more crucial.
If he needed any more proof he made the right choice by opting to play, Bachman got it by looking at his dad after the Cincinnati game.
"He had a smile that he couldn't get off his face," Bachman said. "He loved it, seeing me out there."