Pitt head coach Paul Chryst had the opportunity to deliver some good news after Wednesday afternoon's practice. He awarded four walk-ons scholarships; punter Matt Yoklic, long snapper Kevin Barthelemy, fullback Mark Giubilato and freshman receiver Chris Wuestner.
"What's neat about it, is the response from the other guys," Chryst said. "It was a pretty good moment."
In the case of Yoklic, from nearby Pine-Richland High School, he took over punting duties last season. He had to wait a little bit for his scholarship. He came to Pitt as a preferred walk-on in 2009--meaning as soon as a scholarship came open, he'd get preference. As Pitt went through multiple coaching changes, Yoklic had to wait longer than expected. However, Pitt was always where he wanted to be.
"For me, once I got here, they told me ‘once you're a starter, you'll earn a scholarship,'" Yoklic said. "Last year, it took a little longer. With all the coaching changes, and everything, it didn't work out our way. I know me and Kevin (Barthelemy), we talked a lot, and just tried to stay positive. We knew if we kept doing well, we'd get our break. We got a scholarship now."
Yoklic averaged 41.2 yards a kick on 62 punts in 2011, with a long of 58 in his first year as Pitt's full-time punter.
Barthelemy had a little bit of a different story. A three-year starter and all-conference performer at Moon Area, he came to Pitt simply just wanting to play. He had handled long snapping duties in high school, and looked to maybe latch on there.
"Growing up in Pittsburgh, it's always been a dream to play here," Barthelemy said. "Just an opportunity to walk-on was pretty cool."
Barthelemy played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman last year, snapping for all placement kicks. Now, with three years of eligibility left, Barthelemy is on scholarship as a long snapper--a rare feat for anyone. Obviously, it shows the attention that Chryst and his staff devote to special teams.
"Now that I can earn a scholarship, it's a lot better," Barthelemy added. "It's definitely a surprise. It means a lot that the coaches know we're working hard for the team too. That's pretty nice."
The one most obvious is Mark Giubilato. Giubilato is the favorite to land the starting fullback job this year. Even though he's been strictly a first-teamer, going back to the spring, and with just eight days before the opener, he's not assuming anything. That attitude of his is a big reason he is where he is.
"I'm getting a little (first-team) reps now," Giubilato said. "I don't want to jinx it. I got to stay healthy and keep working hard. I was banged up the last few days. (Adam) Lazenga came in and did a great job in the scrimmage (Wednesday). If there's competition, it's good at every position. If you have someone pushing you, you're going to get the best out of yourself."
Originally a Temple commit coming out of high school, Giubilato wanted one more of year of experience, before heading to college. He only had one year of experience as a starter at quarterback. After a year at Milford--which has also sent Pitt LeSean McCoy, Todd Thomas and Khaynin Mosley-Smith--Giubilato still had the option to go to Temple as a quarterback, go to Navy as a quarterback, or join Pitt as a walk-on.
Despite having that option to play quarterback, Giubilato had no interest in playing the position. Initially, he went to Milford to play linebacker. As a result of injuries and other position switches, he found himself at quarterback, but he wasn't comfortable.
"I got stuck," Giubilato said. "It was cool. I liked playing quarterback. I liked having the ball in my hands, and everything. I was always a little bit too aggressive to play quarterback. I always tried to run people over, which always drove my coaches crazy. Instead of going out of bounds, I'd put my shoulder down."
It wasn't all bad. Based on the things he liked about playing quarterback, those are things now encouraged from him as a fullback.
"Now, that's what they want me to do, so it all worked out in the end."
Chryst is still getting to know Wuestner, but the freshman receiver stepped up big time in training camp, especially with a number of receivers out with injuries.
"He earned it, and you appreciate that," Chryst said of Wuestner. "Everyone has got their own story, and that one is pretty good."