September 26, 2011

Bravado Haunts

Filed under: Coaches,Football,History — Chas @ 10:15 am

If there is one thing Pitt fans should be aware after the past weeks, it is that past words will be thrown back in your face. It doesn’t matter if it was seven to eight years ago or seven to eight months. Chancellor Nordenberg’s statements after the ACC raid of the Big East in 2003 and 04 were constantly being cited and referenced last week after Pitt and Syracuse announced they were going to the ACC.

Now, after the loss to Notre Dame, the statements from Coach Todd Graham about winning and high octane offense are tossed back. Both papers had their columnists take the obvious shots. Referencing the high octane, sputtering, not matching the hype.

Not unexpected. Predictable, even.


September 7, 2011

Extra Reading Material — 9/7

Filed under: Football,History — Chas @ 1:31 pm

A couple good stories to read today. One short, one long.

This short post on the Rice Marching Band (known as the MOB). They got some attention over the weekend with their halftime performance against Texas where they spelled out “$EC.” In the past they also had some fun at the expense of Coach Todd Graham — who left Rice for Tulsa after one season.  But A&M is a favorite target for a reason.

The MOB certainly seems to enjoy gigging their former Southwest Conference foes. During Saturday’s show, the band took on Texas Gov. Rick Perry (a proud A&M grad) and his presidential bid. The announcer declared, “The next time you go to the polls, ask yourself: Is your candidate smarter than an Aggie?”

The MOB will take on a sacred cow “wherever we find it,” says Throckmorton. “The thing about A&M is everything is sacred there. It’s sort of a match made in heaven.”

One more reason why A&M will fit right into the SEC.

Then there is the long, sad story of Daryl Turner.


December 9, 2009

Maybe it’s the plunging temperatures, freezing rain and overall grayness of the day. Maybe I’m just in a downer mood. Not sure, but for some reason the Big East honors did not do much to cheer me.

It should surprise no one that Pitt kicked ass in this. Four players made the 2nd Team All-Big East and ten made the 1st Team.

2nd Team All-Big East players from Pitt were: TE Nate Byham, K Dan Hutchins, DT Gus Mustakas and S Dom DeCicco.

1st Team All-Big East players from Pitt were: WR Jonathan Baldwin, OG John Malecki, OT Jason Pinkston, TE Dorin Dickerson, QB Bill Stull, RB Dion Lewis, DE Greg Romeus, LB Adam Gunn, DT Mick Williams and CB Aaron Berry.

Dion Lewis and Greg Romeus were unanimous picks at their spots.

In addition, Dion Lewis was unanimously chosen as Big East rookie of the year and named the offensive player of the year. The first Pitt player chosen for the offensive PoY since Larry Fitzgerald.

Greg Romeus and Mick Williams were named co-defensive players of the year in the Big East. The third time in the last four years that Pitt players have taken that honor.

The ten 1st team spots is as many as WVU and Cinci had combined. Yet Pitt finishes behind both of them.

So while I am happy for the deserved recognition for the Pitt players. Especially for what Dion Lewis has done this year, it makes the finish to the season just a little more bitter at the moment.

January 5, 2009

This Means Something

Filed under: Basketball,History,Polls — Chas @ 1:10 pm

I suppose to programs that have done it multiple times and have National Championships, this might seem like a nice but relatively minor event. Arguably getting to number 1, even in early-January is as much about about being high enough in preseason rankings and attrition of those teams ahead.

The time that truly matters is at the end of the year.

That may be true. It does, however, matter right now. This is a big deal for Pitt. In the 101 years that Pitt has played basketball, and however many years that there have been polls Pitt has never been ranked #1. Not in NCAA Tournament seedings. Not in the polls.

Even in this period where Pitt has set itself as one of the top-25 teams of this decade, they have never reached higher than #2 for only brief periods.

The polls come out later, but teams ranked 1, 2 and 4 all lost (here’s a couple AP voters showing their ballots).

Just an ridiuclously awesome thing to enjoy the reflected glory of what the team has done. I mean, I know it’s silly, but I’ve had a big goofy grin on my face most of the day just thinking about seeing Pitt in the #1 spot.

The players know to say the right thing.

“We’re excited,” sophomore center DeJuan Blair said. “It means a whole lot for us. But we need to stay focused and keep our heads in it, stay humble.”

The first Pitt basketball team to ever accomplish it. At least one goal achieved.

UPDATE (1:33): Here’s the Coach’s Poll (ESPN/USA Today) story, Pitt got 30 of 31 votes — one coach kept UNC at #1.

January 4, 2009

The Formula for No. 1

Filed under: ACC,History — Keith W. @ 8:02 pm

If No. 11 beats No. 2, No. 3 beats No. 11 and UR beats No. 1, what does No. 3 equal?

Down go the Tar Heels!

Pitt was ranked No. 3 going into the week.

No. 2 UConn fell to Georgetown . Than, Pitt knocked off the Hoyas.

Now, just seconds ago, the final variable fell into place.  The team most pundits have already given the National Title, No. 1 North Carolina,  fell at home, to our good friends the BC Eagles, 85-78.

Fan House already has a take on the game.

How they did it was pretty simple: BC was on fire from behind the arc and clamped down the Heels defensively. The Eagles also fought on the offensive glass and kept UNC from getting into their deadly transition game. That fact caused the normally poised Tar Heels to take frustration shots and make frustration fouls which fed the deficit.

I don’t see how anyone can’t pick Pitt to be No. 1.

The Panther’s have never been ranked No. 1 , and it will be interesting to see how the team will handle the bulls eye.

Pitt’s next game is Sunday at home against St. John’s (who beat ND this weekend).  The Red Storm  seem to have a knack for upsetting the Panther’s when they least expect it. You can bet the Pete will be buzzing a week from today.

December 20, 2008

I love Pitt. I would hope that would be obvious at this point. (Yes there is a “but…” coming.)

I know Coach Wannstedt loves Pitt. Having said that, he’s not at all accurate on this.

“When you see some of the things that are happening [with regards to coaches getting fired] around the country, if our chancellor would have responded like some of these other guys do, I’d either be back coaching the NFL by now or be golfing in Naples,” Wannstedt said with a smile, as he sat, drenched with Gatorade, and discussed the Panthers’ season-ending win at Connecticut in the visiting team interview room Dec. 6.

Wannstedt added, “That’s what separates our chancellor from others. … and that’s what makes [Pitt] special.”

Chancellor Nordenberg has been great for Pitt athletics. He has recognized the value of the major programs having a national presence to the university in terms of exposure and overall donations. He is engaged in the athletic department. Again, not in dispute.

He knows the value of good relationships with the coaches. That is the thing. He has a personal relationship with Wannstedt. Just as he has one with basketball coach Jamie Dixon. That is why Coach Wannstedt got an extension last season without any preconditions.

His relationship with the Chancellor. It also would be a significant factor that Coach Wannstedt has built strong relationships with top boosters and supporters of the program. That was as big a factor. There was no real financial risk to keeping and extending Wannstedt.

Imagine what the relationship would have been with the Chancellors and Athletic Directors in the 90s, if Coach Wannstedt had gotten the job in 1989.

“When we met, I said ‘Ed, what are you looking for in a head coach?’ ” Wannstedt said. “He said ‘Dave, I’m looking for a guy who can be on one side of the tracks and talk to the top CEO of U.S. Steel and walk on the other side of the tracks and relate to the guys working out in the steel mills.

“He told me that’s what he was looking for; that’s what, in his mind, was a ‘Pittsburgh guy’ and that’s what this program needed at that time.”

Wannstedt, the son of a steelworker, had long ago worked in a mill a few summers. He figured he’d be a shoo-in for the job.

Not quite.

“I thought when [Bozik] was talking, he was describing me,” Wannstedt said, then chuckled. “It was a nice visit, but then they called me a few days later and said they were hiring Paul Hackett — a California guy. So I guess you could call it an interview, but I’m not sure what was really going on.”

I’m willing to bet Coach Wannstedt would have been out at Pitt. Maybe not after only 3 years, but it would have been in the 90s. The school and athletic department had no will, drive or direction to make changes. It was being run as small-time and Wannstedt would not have been able to change that back then.

October 29, 2008

With South Bend, not a long drive to Chicago. To say nothing of all the ND alum and pretend alum in Chicagoland, the Irish get a lot of play there. Now with Pitt visiting, it’s time to recall the Dave Wannstedt era.

The pieces were in place, Dave Wannstedt insists to this day.

Wannstedt made his oft-repeated and frequently mocked proclamation before the 1996 season, his fourth with the Bears.

“I believed in that with all my heart,” Wannstedt said Monday. “And I would have said it again.

“We had Bryan Cox and Curtis Conway, and Erik Kramer had just set a bunch of Bears record. Rashaan Salaam was coming off a nice rookie year. And I really felt like the pieces were in place. And they were – for three weeks. And then Erik broke his neck, and obviously you can’t win without a quarterback.”

“I’ve always believed,” Wannstedt said, “that whether it’s at Pitt or the Bears or the Dolphins, for every coach there’s a window that opens up. It might be the first year. It might be the third year, the fourth year. The stars either align and things fall right or they don’t and the window closes.”

No, he doesn’t say what happens after that.

Actually the stories, are not much on rehashing his Chicago time, though Chris Zorich is still pissed at Wannstedt for cutting him from his hometown team.

“The wins and losses aren’t where anybody would like them to be,” said former NFL offensive lineman Bill Fralic, a three-time All-American at Pitt. ”Dave is building a program, and good things are happening that the administration and fans really like. This is the year he’s got to go to a bowl game to sustain the other things that are going on. It needs to happen.”

Although South Bend, Ind., is 75 miles from Chicago, and although it has been nine years since the Bears fired Wannstedt, bitter feelings remain. Former Notre Dame All-American and Bears defensive tackle Chris Zorich said the way Wannstedt treated him and other Bears players makes him root against his former coach.

”I’m extremely surprised that he landed a college job with his reputation,” Zorich said. ”The majority of players who I know who played under Wannstedt were not fans. Obviously, I’m not a fan. I’m surprised at the success he has had at Pitt.”

How do you really feel. I’m thinking that Charlie Weis is going to let Chris Zorich fire up the Irish before the game on Saturday. Bitterness and bile are a fun brew.

From the day both Wannstedt and Weis were hired and slated to face each other in their opening games, there has been a built in storyline. And this season keeps it coming.

The pieces were in place, you might say.

Final score: Rutgers 54, Pitt 34. Ouch.

Now the former Bears coach has to pick up those pieces, put them back together and bring them to South Bend. Notre Dame awaits Saturday.

It’s an intriguing matchup of teams and coaches with remarkable similarities. Both teams are 5-2 and unranked in the AP poll but receiving votes.

Wannstedt and Charlie Weis are each in Year 4. You could make a case that both programs have turned a corner. Or you could argue that neither has accomplished anything significant, other than luring promising recruiting classes.

Weis hasn’t won a bowl game, and Wannstedt hasn’t coached in one.

Wannstedt and Weis patrolled opposite sidelines in their first game as college head coaches. The date was Sept. 3, 2005. It was a night game at Heinz Field.

“It was a big, hyped game and I thought the intensity was in the wrong place,” Wannstedt recalled. “About half the articles were about how I came from the Dolphins and Charlie was with the Patriots.

“It was a little embarrassing, to be honest. We were just trying to get this thing going and play the game.”

Notre Dame won big, 42-21, piling up 502 yards.

“It’s funny. The two guys starting for us at defensive tackle – Rashaad Duncan and Gus Mustakas – were starting as true freshmen,” Wannstedt said. “I remember thinking: ‘Gus isn’t even old enough to vote yet.’ “

It’s been a slow transition to being a college coach, hasn’t it?

October 23, 2008

Mike Ditka Is Still Bats@#t Crazy

Filed under: Alumni,Football,History — Chas @ 9:01 am

If you imagine Pitt football as a big family, then Mike Ditka is the crazy uncle who will just go off on rants that just leaves the kids nervous and the grown-ups quietly shaking their heads in the background. you love him, but after the get together, you take your kids aside and make sure they understand that everything Uncle Mike said is not something to believe. In fact it would be best if you don’t even mention some parts to others.

I know that in Pittsburgh the hot topic are the hits, fines and comments from Polamalu. Ditka’s solution, though, is nuts.

Ditka said the only way to change the violent nature of the game would be by changing the equipment.

“I said a long time ago if you want to change the game take the mask off the helmet,” he said. “It will change the game a lot. If you want to change the game and get it back to where people aren’t striking with the head and using the head as a weapon, take the mask off the helmet.

“A lot of pretty boys aren’t going to stick their face in there. If you’re going to take hitting out of football, you might as well just call it soccer. That’s what I believe. A lot of people will be disappointed I said that, but football is what it is. [Vince] Lombardi said it a long time ago. Football is not a contact game. Dancing is a contact game. Football is a collision sport.”

Why yes, back in the days of leather helmets, it was so much safer and no one got banged around the head. Little violence or risk of injury to the cranium then. Those were handsome men by the time they were done playing professional football. That just doesn’t compute.

That’s up there with the old-time hockey argument that helmets and eyeshields promote more hits to the head and high sticks. That if they didn’t have that kind of protective gear, the players would be less careless and more respectful of the opponent.

Otherwise, it was a good visit from Uncle Mike.

“I constantly talk about tradition at Pitt, and that’s what separates us from most of the other ones,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “You can’t say the words ‘Pitt tradition’ without saying ‘Mike Ditka.’ For him to come back and spend some time with the players, I think it’s a neat thing.”

Wannstedt took advantage of the moment to introduce Ditka, an Aliquippa native, to a pair of Panthers from his hometown in redshirt freshman linebacker Brandon Lindsey and freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin.

“The kids that came to Pitt made a wise choice, and they’re going to get a great education,” said Ditka, who was in Pittsburgh for today’s grand opening of a Ditka’s Restaurant in Robinson. “Football only continues on with a very few of us. I was fortunate that I could carry on to pro ball. But most of these guys the education is going to take you the rest of the way.”

October 20, 2008

I probably jumped the shark a long time ago, but this is just a clincher. It also shows how blogs, like radio and other mediums can be used for promoting and selling stuff. Sports Illustrated has a new book being released: The College Football Book.

I received a courtesy copy for review and a chance to talk to someone associated with the book. In this case, David Sabino. He does a lot of fantasy baseball and football these days for SI. This makes sense when you are the Associate Editor in Charge of Statistics. Some are really not impressed by his work. David and I talked on Friday over the phone.

You can listen to the 20 minute conversation — if you can put up with a slew of “ums” and “ahhh” from me. Clearly I need to work on this before I even consider more podcasts. I’ve broken it up into 3 parts, each 6-8 minutes long.

Part 1, is about David Sabino’s background and involvement in the book.

Part 2, covers some of the specifics on Pitt players in the book.

Part 3, is just a bit of a grab bag. Talking a little about the images in the book, future projects, and the changing media.

My thoughts on the book. The photos inside are beautiful as you would expect. There are some of the classic stories from Sports Illustrated through the years, including part of the essay on Tony Dorsett from 1976 written by Myron Cope — the accompanying photo of Dorsett breaking free of some gold helmet wearing defenders trying to arm tackle him is stunning. There are also pictures of Hugh Green and Dan Marino.

Sticking with Pitt players for a moment, the center of the book focuses on All-time College All-Stars. There was also the restriction of limiting it to only one player from a school. Dorsett did ton’t make that list. A tough call, but with Jim Brown and Herschel Walker ahead of him, it is hard to argue too strenuously. Especially since Hugh Green made the cut on the defense. As David Sabino explained, most schools consider their greatest players to be running backs or quarterbacks.

More shocking was Dorsett’s exclusion from the 70s all-decade team. Instead it was Johnny Rodgers (Nebraska), Billy Sims (Oklahoma) and Archie Griffin (Ohio St.). According to Mr. Sabino, that was pretty much by the numbers.

Obviously releasing the book around this time of the year, the hope is that it will be purchased as a holiday gift. It really is a beautiful book, and it is the sort of book that if you stick on a coffee table, will be picked up and paged through.

As I say in the conversation, I got the book a day or two before family came for a visit. My dad — who still loves SI — saw the book and just started paging through it. It just held his attention for a good 30 minutes.

Another bonus is on the decade pages, they show a sampling of program covers from the period. Some great historical stuff. It’s a little sad as program covers have gotten rather boring in my view. It’s hardly worth holding onto the same way.

If you want to get a copy of the book you can find it here and here. Suggested retail price is around $30, is actually sold online for about $20.

September 29, 2008

Don’t Look Back In Anger

Filed under: Football,History — Chas @ 11:20 am

A nice puffer on ex-head coach Walt Harris.

“Pitt still means a lot to me,” he said. “Some of the people there still mean a lot to me …

“You can’t have a better chancellor than Mark Nordenberg. He was great to me. And it was wonderful that they brought Steve Pederson back [as athletic director]. He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever been around. They’ll bring Pitt back.”

It’s amazing Harris isn’t bitter about the way he was forced out at Pitt despite twice being Big East Conference Coach of the Year and leading the Panthers to six bowl games, including the Fiesta Bowl in his final season. It’s also amazing he isn’t reveling in the fact that his successor, Dave Wannstedt, in his fourth season, has not come close to matching his success. Pitt didn’t go to a bowl the past three seasons and lost its opener to Bowling Green this season with Harris in the Heinz Field stands.

The Harris era never has seemed better.

Harris never has seemed so smart.

“How does being bitter help me?” Harris asked. “How does it make my situation any better?

“Our record at Pitt is what it was. I’m very proud of it. I’m very proud of some of the other things we did there. Our graduation rate. Keeping the off-the-field problems to a minimum … “

The vitriol some have directed at Harris in the past always puzzled me. Half seemed to be because it was felt that he didn’t recruit well enough, one-third was about his coaching deficiencies and the rest seemed to be his personality and media dealings. It’s noticeably dimmed in the past year as we still wait for Wannstedt to take Pitt to that “next level.”

I know that Harris reached a point with Pitt where it seemed they both needed to go their separate ways, so I am glad that Harris still speaks kindly of his time at Pitt.

Then there’s Andrew Johnson, one of the key defectors from Pitt’s lost 2004 recruiting class — and a significant blow to Walt Harris’ tenure. Johnson was supposed to be a can’t-miss, blue-chip running back. He missed.

Andrew Johnson drew the ire of Pitt fans when he backed out of a verbal commitment to the hometown Panthers to play for his dream school, the University of Miami, in 2004. Four years later, the North Hills High School graduate is now playing for the Akron Zips.

He claims no regrets over the way his career went. Sure.

August 22, 2008

Recalling Eugene Jarvis

Filed under: Football,History,Recruiting — Chas @ 8:46 am

Akron senior Kent St. redshirt junior Eugene Jarvis, as the leading returning rusher in college football, will get some love. He is this year’s Garrett Wolfe (remember the diminutive NIU back?). There will be the inevitable stories that mentions his recruiting.

Angry at Pitt for giving his scholarship to a bigger running back. Angry at West Virginia for going in another direction. Angry at every coach that took one look at him and decided the 5-foot-5, 170-pound sparkplug was too small to play major college football.

So, every time Jarvis steps onto the field he runs with a purpose to show what everyone but Kent State missed out on.

“I’ve been criticized about my size my whole life pretty much,” said Jarvis, a junior with the Golden Flashes. “Coming from high school to college that was always a big issue in recruiting. I had a lot of coaches that backed off me because of my size. At the same time, I just use that as motivation. Every game I go out with a chip on my shoulder trying to prove people wrong.”

That’s good. He plays angry. It works for him. It’s a common motivator. In college, it’s the teams that passed on you. In the pros, it’s all those who were drafted ahead.

Just to recap, though, as I recall why Pitt pulled his scholarship offer (and it was just an offer, Jarvis hadn’t given a verbal). Part of it was Jarvis’ own hubris. He had an early offer from Pitt, but was convinced he was going to get a lot more offers to pick and choose. Those offers never materialized, and Jarvis quickly found out that he didn’t have the leverage or reputation he thought he had to make teams wait on his decision.

Pitt got two verbals early from RBs LaRod Stephens (he hadn’t added the -Howling at that point) and Irv Brown (now a safety). While the offer was pulled after Brown committed, it was Stephens’ verbal that was the main reason. Both Jarvis and Stephens were similar in size and build (though, Stephens is about 2 inches taller). Stephens heard and actually listened to the Pitt coaches and his own about not taking too long to make a decision.

Jarvis also had academic concerns that added into teams backing away from him (which Stephens didn’t have), in addition to being a little too convinced of his own greatness.

Now is the time to remember that Jarvis is 5-foot-6, 165 pounds. That his academic standing — he claims to be qualified for freshman eligibility — is in question. And that he made some comments last spring that irked Pitt’s staff.

When a Pitt fan-based Internet recruiting site asked Jarvis about the Panthers, he said something to the effect of knowing that at least he can play Division I football.

At the time, it sounded like he was making the Panthers an afterthought, a fallback plan if bigger and better schools didn’t come through.

I don’t have the link to that article, but yes. Yes it did. I remember at the time, not wanting Pitt to waste any more time on the kid.

The other amusing thing about the latter article is how fawning Kevin Gorman was over Jarvis at the time, “Jarvis has unique football instincts, a combination of acceleration, elusiveness, quickness and vision that are uncommon. He’s a miniature version of Tony Dorsett, and Pitt has been waiting for his second coming since 1976.”

To be fair, Jarvis had a fantastic senior season at Central Catholic. Still, the number of offers went down rather than up. Pitt, WVU and even Bowling Green all pulled offers. Only Temple, Akron and Kent State remained.

Final thought. That chip and confidence that Jarvis has serves him well. How, though, would he have handled being supplemented by a back like LeSean McCoy? LaRod Stephens-Howling has been all about the team and making it work well. I don’t think he would have been able to put on the same happy face.

July 29, 2008

Since it is Big East Media Day, ESPN-U is replaying the top Big East games from 2007 today.

The Pitt-WVU, game will be airing from 7-10 tonight.

July 24, 2008

Jimbo Covert Is His Dad

Filed under: Football,History,Recruiting — Chas @ 12:06 pm

And he’s looking at Pitt.

Lake Forest High School defensive lineman Scott Covert could be the first player of the coach Chuck Spagnoli era to verbally commit to a major college ahead of the season.

The coach said the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder is close to making his college intentions known.

According to the Web site, Covert is being recruited by Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Pittsburgh and Northern Illinois.

Covert’s father, Jimbo, was an All-American at Pitt before starring for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s.

Not to be confused with Scott Covert the artist who likes to do word maps of grave rubbings.

July 22, 2008

The Other That Got Away

Filed under: Football,History — Chas @ 7:42 am

I admit to something of a continued fascination with the football recruiting class of 2004. Not the players Pitt got, but all the ones that got away. It was the absolute culmination of a football season of complete disappointment. From the Big East breaking apart, to the on-the-field collapse, and then to have the highly ranked recruiting class lose blue-chipper after blue-chipper. The last was most painful as several went to teams that were hated — Penn State (Morelli) and Miami (Bryant and Johnson) — or to new foes — USF (Peyton).

Of course, time balanced a bit as all of them had disappointing careers, major off-the-field problems or injuries. There was one other, though, that got away. Alphonso Smith at the very last minute signed with Wake Forest. That one was lost in the shuffle of the time and relatively minor by comparison. He was a Florida kid — not local — and he wasn’t signing with a team that had won in decades.

Smith redshirted and actually has become the best of the bunch as an all-ACC, potential all-American cornerback in his senior year. So, this is what happened.

Smith committed to Pittsburgh before his mother and two Pahokee (Fla.) High School teammates talked him into changing his mind on National Signing Day.

He was about to sign the letter-of-intent with Pitt and was sitting between Pahokee classmates Antonio Wilson and Demir Boldin – two Wake Forest recruits – when his mother arrived at the high school holding a phone. Wake Forest recruiting coordinator Ray McCartney was on the other end of the line.

Smith said he intentionally had left his Wake Forest letter-of-intent at home. When he mentioned to his mom that he didn’t have the Wake Forest letter with him, she promptly reached into her purse and pulled it out. When he pointed out that he didn’t have a Wake Forest hat, she immediately gave him one.

“She’s on the phone with Coach (McCartney) saying, ‘Yeah, I think he’s going to sign,’ ” Smith recalled. “And Antonio and D.J. are on me (saying), ‘Come on, man. We’ll have fun. We’ll turn this thing around.’ ”

Smith finally gave in and signed with Wake Forest. Then he had to make one more call.

“I had to call the Pitt coach and say I signed with Wake,” Smith said. ‘He was like, ‘What?!?’ “

Given the day Harris and the rest of the coaching staff was having that was likely the cherry on top of a crap sundae.

July 16, 2008

Legacies in Recruiting

Filed under: Football,History,Recruiting — Chas @ 9:14 am

A couple stories that are connected by ties with Pitt. The ties of family and history.

Bret Gunn, the stepbrother of linebacker Adam Gunn, wants to come to Pitt. He plays both Safety and Running Back. Given his speed — he’s a top track guy — I’m sure Coach Wannstedt would love to see him at safety. What the younger Gunn has to do if he wants to go to Pitt — or anywhere — is get to work on the grades.

According to, several colleges are showing interest in Gunn, including Buffalo, Connecticut, Florida State, Ohio State, North Carolina, Pitt, Syracuse and Virginia. But the speedy, 5-foot-11, 165-pounder has no scholarship offers yet.

“At this rate, (the colleges) are going to stop looking at him,” Ed Gunn said. “If he doesn’t pass summer school, he could miss the early part of the season.”

Ed Gunn wanted to share his son’s situation, much like Tonie Clemons, the mother of former Valley receiver/defensive back Toney Clemons, did.

“Bret and I had a long conversation about (grades),” Kiski Area first-year coach Harvey Smith said. “I tried to explain to him where he stands and the opportunity before him. He needs to do what he needs to do.”

Bret Gunn has made strides at improving much in his life. His family life is much more stable, but he still has to make his choices.

Recent Pitt verbal, Juantez Hollins had another story last week. I realize Aliquippa has produced some of the best Pitt players. Still, the whole meme gets a bit tiresome and perhaps a bit of a burden for players.

While Hollins concedes he needs to become much stronger, his play, as well as the interest he received from colleges, has been fueled by his quickness.

“They like the way I move, and they love my footwork,” Hollins said.

Agility has been just as important to Hollins as size, some of which has likely been sharpened by his experience playing for Marvin Emerson and the Quips basketball team.

“That’s probably his best attribute, his ability to run,” Zmijanic said. “There are a lot of big guys out there, but that’s what separates him from the others.”

What didn’t separate Hollins from many of the Aliquippa standouts who preceded him was his commitment to Pitt. Aliquippa has sent several high-profile players to the school — particularly in recent years — and Hollins said he liked the fact he will be reuniting with former Aliquippa players Brandon Lindsey and Jonathan Baldwin.

Said Zmijanic: “I just think most of our kids are homebodies and don’t want to travel too far. They feel real comfortable with the people [at Pitt]. Plus, with all the guys that have been there before, they feel comfortable.”

The familiarity and ties to present and past players helps. It just seems that sometimes the Aliquippa lineage is a little overplayed. Not to mention undue pressur on the kids.

That Hollins already has good footwork and agility is most promising. The strength will come. Especially when Buddy Morris gets a hold of him.

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