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A shining example at Pitt

| Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008

Eddy Estermyer had already expired and was lying on the gurney when his oldest son, Mike, whispered in his ear.

"I promised him I would take care of my brother and sister and mother," Mike said.

Mike and his sister, Anita, were 30 and 29 at the time. Their kid brother, Mark, now the long snapper for the Pitt football team, was only 7.

Eddy Estermyer was 52 when he died. He'd worked as a pipe-fitter for 17 years, before the layoffs began. After that, he worked wherever he could, doing whatever he could, to support his family. That included officiating WPIAL basketball and softball games, even through the radiation treatments for his tonsil cancer.

He was beating the cancer, too, when a reaction to a medication caused his throat to seize up one day. As he began to gasp, Eddy ran down the steps of his house in Chippewa, Beaver County, in a panic. He couldn't find help. His wife, Judy, called 9-1-1 and tried the Heimlich Maneuver.

Eddy's face was turning purple. The ambulance was not going to arrive in time.

So you know what Eddy Estermyer did when he realized he wasn't going to make it?

"He turned around, blew me a kiss, waved goodbye and went down," Judy recalled.

Said Mike: "It was as if someone told him, 'Hey, Eddy, it's time.' "

Mike's promise to his father was quickly tested, because his girlfriend wanted him to move to Philadelphia and get married.

"She said, 'Marry me or dump me,' and I said, 'I'll take 'b,' " recalled Mike, a newspaper advertising rep. "She didn't understand that I needed to take care of my brother. But it was really my mom who did all the important stuff, like schooling, getting him to treat people the right way, all that."

It was Mike, however, who steered his brother toward football. Mike had played at Slippery Rock. He saw in Mark a center, so he put the little critter in a 3-point stance and had him practice shotgun snaps in the narrow hallway of their home.

Mark gave his heart to the sport. He had an affinity for long-snapping, odd as it might sound. He'd ask his sister, now the girls' softball coach at Blackhawk, if she'd catch snaps, or he'd simply fire the ball back through his legs against a wooden shed in the backyard.

Everybody pitched in to raise Mark Estermyer, and now look: He is in Pitt's graduate school of information sciences and technology, with a 3.7 GPA, and has a job lined up at PPG Industries -- where he did an internship last summer -- if his NFL dream doesn't work out after this season.

Mark has been on the All-Big East Academic team three years running. He is a person who speaks of "honoring my family," a person who woke up at 5:30 a.m. most days last summer for his mandatory two-hour workout at Pitt, then logged eight-hour shifts at PPG.

"He's the light of our life," Judy says.

A standout defensive tackle at Blackhawk, Mark could have played the position for several Ivy League and Patriot League schools. But he'd been to special teams camps at Pitt, and he jumped when the Panthers offered a scholarship, even if it was for snapping, only.

Though he has four special-teams tackles this season, you probably haven't heard Mark's name during a telecast - unless it was the time Brent Musburger mistakenly called him out three years ago after an errant field-goal snap at Nebraska.

Mike McGlynn snapped on field goals then.

"Brent Musburger said it was me," Mark recalled this week, laughing. "He was like, 'I hope Estermyer is paying attention this time.' I still hear about it. People say, 'Oh, I hope we don't see Nebraska again.'

"I'm like, 'That wasn't me!' "

Such is the life of a long-snapper. And get this: Mark's summertime passion is umpiring, like his brother and father.

Speaking of which, what would dad think of all this?

"I think he would be very proud of what I'm doing," Mark said. "The only regret I have is that I never really got to know my dad as a man. That's just one thing I'm kind of dejected about."

One final piece to the story: Judy Estermyer, 64, recently was laid off from a job she worked for 22 years. She was a year from retirement. Yet, in the grand tradition of her family, she's eager to see if "something positive" will come of this.

She kiddingly told Mark, "You better practice up and make it to the NFL," to which he replied, not surprisingly, "OK, mom, I will - and then I'll take care of you."

Like father, like brother, like son.

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