Seniors Reflect On Pitt Careers

The remaining members of the 2008 recruiting class played their final game Saturday. Despite the disappointing outcome, and a lot of turmoil along the way, all spoke nothing but positive things of their Pitt careers, and are exited about where the program is heading under Paul Chryst.

They came in on the heels of a 13-9 upset win at West Virginia in 2007. They exited with a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday.

A total of 19 players signed in the 2008 recruiting class, which included three U.S. Army All-Americans. Along the way, there were a lot of ups and downs. The highlight would have to be Pitt's lone 10-win season in the last 30 years, which came in 2009 after a 19-17 win over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl that year.

Pitt went 39-26 since signing those 19 players. Of the 19, 16 completed their careers as Panthers. One declared early for the NFL Draft (Jon Baldwin) and became a first-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011. It all ended on Saturday with a disappointing loss.

Despite the outcome, all of them looked back on their Pitt careers with positive thoughts.

"A lot of changes, a lot of ups and downs," quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "I wouldn't change the guys I came in with. Those guys have fought have never complained about anything. We kept on rolling with the punches, kept on trying to do as many things as we could to win games. That's why I think people don't understand--how much we took, how much we kept rolling with it to try and win games."

Sunseri started every game at quarterback the last three years, compiling a 20-19 record as a starter. Though Sunseri faced much criticism from fans and local media during his career, he says accepting that type of criticism is all part of it.

"The general population is going to have their opinion," Sunseri said. "All we wanted to worry about was trying to be the best we could; not really worry about what anyone else was saying.

"There's always some things you wish you could say. You have to be professional. You have to understand that sometimes things happen. You have to understand sometimes that people are going to say things, and that's their opinion. We just have to keep on going to work very single day. I have my mom, and I can call and vent to her, instead of everybody else."

Sunseri had the best year of his career, throwing for 8,590 yards in his career. He finishes as Pitt's third all-time leading passer, just seven yards behind Dan Marino. He will represent Pitt in the Raycom College Football All-Star Classic.

Ryan Turnley started all 26 of his career games in his final two years, moving to center in 2011. He earned All-Big East honors this past season, and said he had no regrets about his Pitt career. He is heading to the Senior Bowl.

"I had a great time at Pitt," Turnley said. "I've enjoyed it. I'm not going to look back at it and say, 'I wish I would have done this.' I came out for five years and did everything I could. It went pretty good."

Mike Shanahan might not have come in as heralded as Baldwin, but the Norwin graduate had a career-year as a senior, hauling in 62 passes for 983 yards. His 62 receptions are the eighth-most in a season in school history. His 983 yards are also good for eighth-most in a season.

Despite ending his career with a pair of 6-7 seasons, he says he's encouraged for the future of the program.

"I just love the University of Pittsburgh, truthfully," Shanahan said. "I couldn't be happier with my decision to come here. This senior year is all stuff we had to go through before. It was that much more special with Coach Chryst and his whole coaching staff that came in. I know (a win over Ole Miss) could have swung things for the team going forward. I know that they're going to get it right, and I am looking forward to coming back and supporting as a fan and watching those young guys play."

Shanahan will play in the Casino del Sol All-Star game later this week in Tucson, Arizona.

Jarred Holley finished his career with 11 interceptions, including two this year. He never matched his total of five interceptions set in 2010, but was still a valuable member of the defense during his career.

"I'm real proud of our team, our university," Holley said. "I'm proud to be a Pitt alum with all these guys and all these other seniors. I'm really looking forward to seeing all those younger guys in the locker room bounce back. They will."

If there's one positive thing to come out of all this, the general consensus is that this senior class--despite being put through multiple coaching changes--is confident in the direction the team is heading under Chryst. There will be a lot of holes to fill with new starters, especially on offense. Sunseri said if there's a silver lining, it's the fact that his group of seniors got to be the class to help lay the foundation for what Chryst wants to accomplish.

Certainly, with all the hype surrounding this class when they were signed, Saturday's loss wasn't the way they envisioned exiting the program. However, if Chryst is able to turn the program around, they still feel like they'll be able to be a part of that.

"We came in with a guy like Coach Dave Wannstedt," Sunseri said. "We believed in Coach Wannstedt. He was a character-guy that loved Pitt. He wanted us to have as much success as possible because he loved us. He honestly cared about us.

"Then, there's a lot of stuff that happened for us in the middle. For us to finish with a guy like Coach Chryst, we feel like he's a Dave Wannstedt kind of guy. Coach Chryst is obviously his own person, and he brings different attributes to the table. He's one of those guys who loves the university and loves the players. He's one of those guys you want to play for' that you'd give everything you can for.

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