Piscitelli looking for growth on defense

Playing strong safety at the collegiate level is tough enough. Looked to as the quarterback of the defense, the leader of the secondary must read formations, call out adjustments and get everyone on his side of the ball on the same page before each snap.

Once he gets the team in position, he must then focus on his own responsibilities, which encompass the pressure of being the last line of defense and the attention he will get if anyone gets behind him. Even if it wasn't his fault, the thousands of fans in the stands will usually see the back of his jersey chasing the opponent to the end zone and focus their criticisms accordingly.

Winning is any football player's #1 motivation, but for a strong safety the play of his teammates on defense has a whole other importance. Poor play from the players in front will usually make a safety look bad. And what player enjoys looking bad?

The Oregon State Beavers' Sabby Piscitelli is no exception. However, his responsibilities this year seem to be even above and beyond other Pac-10 safeties. With a new set of linebackers in front of him and a young supporting cast in the secondary, there may be a lot of opportunities to make this senior look bad.

"The most important thing this year is discipline," explains Piscitelli. "That's a big thing we lacked last year. We had the talent, I just think we lacked discipline at times. That's getting beat on the big plays and we can't do that this year."

With the obvious lack of experience surrounding Piscitelli on defense, the temptation to lose sight of his responsibilities is always great.

"Last year I think I got myself in trouble by trying to do too much," reflects Sabby. "This year I am really going to focus on doing my assignment and making my plays. When you start worrying about other things, that's when you are going to get yourself into trouble."

So how is #28 going to balance the focus between player/coach and All-Pac-10 safety?

"I'm not a big rah-rah guy," explains Sabby. "I'll say words here and there, but my big thing is to go out there and lead by example. I just want to go out there and make my plays and that will carry over to the younger guys,"

"You can't really speak that much. The more and more you speak they will start tuning you out. You got to say something when the time is right, meanwhile you just got to go out there and play. The harder you play the more the young guys are going to follow."

The first real test of the year resulted in a big F-minus for the young defense. Poor tackling, missed assignments and lack of focus on crucial plays allowed Boise State's Ian Johnson to have a career day with 240 yards rushing and five, yes five, touchdowns.

"Everyone is going to make mistakes, and people learn. The more mistakes you make (early) the better player you can be," explains the optimistic safety.

Well, if Piscitelli is right, Oregon State's defense learned a lot in Boise.

"I think our linebackers are very athletic and young. But they will learn quick. They are very capable of making a lot of plays," assures Piscitelli. "Do I think our secondary is going to learn quick? Yes."

The key to growth is simple: "Just keep the motor going," continues Piscitelli. "If the motor goes in practice then it will go in the games. That's the biggest thing. That's what we started to lack last year, was our practice habits. If our practice habits are great then we are going to play great."

Piscitelli is a good player on the border of being a great player. His play as a sophomore and a junior was good enough to have earned him All Pac-10 Honorable Mention honors and to capture the attention he deserves as one of the premier safeties in the conference, and maybe even the country.

The rest of the defense must step it up soon so Piscitelli can focus on his job. In all honesty, he hasn't looked that sharp this season and has been exposed on missed plays that have some novice fans questioning his ability. Some of it may be deserving, but some of it has been #28 trying to pick up the slack.

Time has run out. The Beavers are now in conference play and the learning needs to evolve quickly into performing. Every game counts and a struggling defense will not help keep Beaver fans from speaking their collective minds.

"You have to go out there and play every game as hard as you can. In the Pac-10 anything can happen. Any team can beat any team and we all know that," preaches Piscitelli. "We all have worked very hard and are determined to get back to the Oregon State level in the secondary, known for great defense."

For Sabby's sake, you hope that's true. But reality seems to be against him. This young defense appears to be even too much for Mr. Piscitelli to handle.


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