Stull claims Pitt QB job
With the stitches removed from the crescent-shaped cut on his right thumb, Bill Stull elected Wednesday not to wear a protective glove designed to improve his grip.
It was a symbolic moment for Stull, who responded to the training-camp injury to his throwing hand by displaying the leadership, resolve and toughness Pitt coaches were looking for at the game's most important position.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt gave Stull the thumbs-up yesterday, officially proclaiming the 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior his starting quarterback. The Panthers open the season against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 1 at Heinz Field.
"I've always dreamed of wanting to be the starting quarterback for my hometown team," said Stull, a Seton-La Salle High School graduate. "I played football here in high school. What better way to progress than to be the starting quarterback for the University of Pittsburgh?"
Stull becomes the third consecutive Western Pennsylvania product to start at quarterback for the Panthers, following Perry Traditional Academy's Rod Rutherford (2002-03) and West Allegheny's Tyler Palko (2004-06).
Stull became the first player in WPIAL history to pass for 3,000 yards in a single season (3,310) in 2004, when he led Seton-La Salle to the WPIAL Class AA title by throwing for a finals-record 323 yards against Aliquippa. He finished with 5,572 career yards and 62 touchdowns in 23 games.
It was obvious, Wannstedt said, Stull was the starter.
"He's a ballplayer. He's a leader. He understands the offense. He knows what we want philosophy-wise. We believe in him. The players believe in him," Wannstedt said. "He's got plenty of ability to do everything we need to ask him to do. In the last few days, we've dropped a couple, but he's thrown the deep ball well. He's ready to play. He's excited. It's a great opportunity for him."
The quarterback battle ended before training camp began, as prized freshman recruit Pat Bostick of Manheim Township left on the eve of training camp and returned home to Lancaster for a week and redshirt freshman Kevan Smith of Seneca Valley struggled handling snaps.
Stull was the clear leader, until he smacked his right thumb off the helmet of left guard C.J. Davis during practice Aug. 10 and had to sit out the following day. Stull was nearly in tears, worrying that the cut - which required five stitches - could cost him a chance at realizing his dream.
"Getting a thumb injury - being a quarterback - that kind of upset me very much," Stull said. "That one practice I wasn't able to go, I personally had to make up for that. It pushed me even more to make sure everyone sees that I want this and nothing is going to stop me."
If Stull hadn't won over his teammates during spring drills, when he ran exclusively with the first-team offense, he did by returning to full-contact drills wearing the glove and battling discomfort on every pass.
"He handled himself like a real leader," redshirt junior receiver Marcel Pestano said. "He didn't show pain. He was still trying to do everything, even with his hand injury.
"Everybody thought he was going to sit out, but I know Bill. He's one of the toughest guys I've met since I've been here. He always wants to do something extra."
In two seasons as the backup to Palko, Stull appeared in six games and completed 7 of 10 passes for 86 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown to Pestano against Central Florida.
Now, Stull is looking forward to making his starting debut.
"I was in awe of how crazy the game could be but also how fun it can be when things go right, when everyone does their job, how exciting and awesome it is to play college football," Stull said. "I can only imagine what it's going to feel like."