By Dale Grdnic PantherDigest.com Senior Writer
PITTSBURGH -- Unlike many 17-year-olds, Jovani Chappel isn't worried about missing his high school prom.
Then again, Chappel is much different. Chappel graduated early from Trotwood-Madison High School near Dayton, Ohio and has been enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh since January.
If all that wasn't enough, Chappel also is competing for playing time at cornerback for the Panthers football team during spring drills at the UPMC Sports Complex. He will retain freshman eligibility in the fall, but is excited about getting a head start on his college career.
"It first started out with me doing so well in high school,'' Chappel said. "I talked to my counselor and found out I was able to do that, and I took some independent study courses that allowed me to get ahead. I talked to my father about it, and we thought it would be a good idea to get in here early.
"I could learn the system, get in shape and get accustomed to everything and mostly to get a jump on school. After this semester, when I come here in the fall when the season starts, everything won't be as hectic as it will for the other freshmen on the team.''
Chappel nearly signed with Purdue, but changed his mind and signed with Pitt. He is battling with veterans Reggie Carter and Kennard Cox for the starting spot opposite Darrelle Revis at cornerback with the Panthers and appeared to be settling in at this point.
"He'll be playing both the left and right sides, as we go through the spring,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "The biggest thing for Jovani right now is for him to pick up the system. He's worn the playbook out. He's worn the computer out.
"And, quite frankly, he's moved past some veterans from a knowledge standpoint. And you can't push a kid through the doors to do that, so he's extremely self-motivated. And we're very happy with that so far.''
After talking to him for just a few minutes, it's easy to see why the Pitt coaching staff was so high on Chappel. He's intelligent and engaging, and if he's half as effective on the field as he was in the interview room he'll be a big success. But Chappel had his own view on what he brings to Pitt.
"I think I have real high confidence, and at the corner position that's something that you really need to have,'' Chappel said. "I like being out there on my own, really showing what I've got on every play.'' "But my best trait would have to be that I'm physical. I'm a real physical corner, but I would also have to say that I also play smart.
"I don't like to blow a lot of coverages, so I spend a lot of time in the film room studying what I've got to do right. I think this is more a mental game than it is physical, so I work hard on that as well.''
Chappel was a four-year starter in high school, three at corner (with a senior year at safety to help his team), and he was rated in the top 35 as a cornerback by Scout.com. His high school coach was former NFL player Maurice Douglass, who played for Dave Wannstedt with the Chicago Bears.
Despite his experience and ability, Chappel was still surprised by Pitt's defense when he first looked at the playbook.
"It's so much different than high school,'' Chappel said. "There's so much to learn, so many checks and responsibilities and things you have to do. The game is a lot faster, and you have to be more disciplined.
"So, I'm here to show them what I can do, and I'm excited about that. A lot of the guys have watched me, and they said I've done pretty well. So, I'm anxious to keep things rolling to show everybody what I'm all about.''
And maybe, if he finds the time, he'll return home to attend the prom.