If Todd Graham wants a fast-pace, high-octane system, he's got a pretty good example going on at center.
Zenel Demhasaj was technically Todd Graham's first commit. Demhasaj was recruited by the previous coaching staff, and was quickly targeted by Graham and his staff. Demhasaj committed to the Panthers two days after Graham was hired, on January 13. A few days after that Demhasaj started classes at Pitt, in order to be here for the start of spring practices.
Coming in as a junior-college transfer, Demhasaj has that experience advantage, but he hasn't seen the field since 2009. Almost a year ago, Demhasaj suffered a torn ACL that kept him out of action in 2010. Still, Big East programs such as Rutgers, USF and Pitt showed an interest this past season.
"April 15 last year, and it's been a year (since the injury)," Demhasaj said. "I really didn't work it out that much, but I came here, and they did what they did."
Coming to Pitt as quickly as he did, enrolling in classes, and still coming off a year where he had to sit out following an injury, Demhasaj employs a fast-pace system of his own. That has transformed over to spring drills. Demhasaj has worked out as the first-team center during the last two days of spring drills. He began spring practice as a third-team right tackle. By Saturday, he was a backup at right tackle. Tuesday, he was with the first-team at center, where he remained on Thursday.
Though it's a long way from becoming official, he credits his ability to be where he is now to the Pitt coaches, specifically the conditioning that was his first impression of Pitt football.
"It started with the rehab," Demhasaj said. "At first, I didn't believe in it for some reason, but (the knee) really felt that bad. They worked me, worked me, worked me. I ‘m feeling better. I feel like I'm ready to go right now. It worked out. I feel great right now, no knee pains or nothing. I'm with these guys."
Demhasaj has already taken a redshirt in 2010, meaning he starts his Pitt career as a redshirt junior. He has two years to play two years; no three years to play two years kind of option. Therefore, it might have seemed frustrating for him to come to Pitt and start off as a third-teamer. He didn't see it that way.
"Starting spring drills, I really didn't do any drills, but that's really what it was; working you out," Demhasaj said. "I understand everything (offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich) says."
Aside from the working out, as Demhasaj has commented on helping him out, he feels he benefits from playing in a similar system at Nassau Community College. Not only that, he played center in this same system.
"It's the same offense, but (Pitt's) is definitely way quicker," Demhasaj said. "I played (center) at the other school I was at, at Nassau, and I guess we're in need of it. Whatever they need me to do, I'll do it. It's difficult adjusting to it. I will get used to it. I feel it already. I have a feeling it's going to come to me. It's going to get easier and easier, day after day."
That adjustment that Demhasaj refers to, is just getting used to the speed and getting used to playing at center, after spending the first three practices at tackle. For a guy who in five days talked to Graham as the new head coach, committed to Pitt then was enrolled at Pitt—if he can start off at a new school that way—his fast-pace attitude is an example of how this new coaching staff wants to run things. They've obviously taken notice of his fast-pace mentality, moving him to first-team center this early in the spring. Now, it's his job to stay there.
"They just switched me over, I'm still trying to learn," Demhasaj said. "I'm still trying to get my steps right, and everything. I can't get that down like that, but I'm trying hard. (Leftwich) is teaching me. I was there right after practice, getting the snaps down. He's trying to get me straight. I'm going to work at it. It will get there."