Pitt's Passing Camp Gets Off To Rousing Start

The UPMC Sports Complex and surrounding parking lots were jammed Friday, as fans from 40 high school jockeyed for a chance to watch their respective teams compete in the University of Pittsburgh's annual Passing Camp.

There were 10 games going at a time at Pittsburgh with all four outdoor fields in use (two games per field) and two games indoors.

"This is the 11th year that I'm aware of that Pitt has done this passing camp,'' Pitt assistant athletic director for football operations, Chris LaSala said. "I don't know if anything was done before Walt Harris got here, but I believe he started it. I started working here back then. My first day, when I arrived at work, they were involved already with the passing camp.

"And this is as big as it's been. It's huge. We have 40 teams, and that's our max. That allows the teams that attend to get a quality amount of work. We could take more teams, but then the teams wouldn't get as many games and they wouldn't get the same amount of quality work. So, we can take up to 40 teams, and we happen to be at our maximum this year.''

The 40 high schools included Pennsylvania representatives Indiana, Clairton, Fox Chapel, North Allegheny, Montour, Mount Pleasant, Penn Trafford, Brockway, Shady Side Academy, Bishop McCort, Latrobe, Manheim Township, Perry, Pine-Richland, Seton-LaSalle, Trinity, Woodland Hills, Brashear, Frazier, Greensburg Salem, Keystone Oaks, Kiski, Steel Valley, Norwin, West Shamokin, Central Catholic, Franklin, Gateway, North Star, Richland, Seneca Valley, Leechburg and Thomas Jefferson.

Also in attendance were teams from Crossland and Clarksburg, Md., Kirtland and Findlay, Ohio, Forestville, N.Y., Stonewall Jackson in Manassas, Va. and St. Mary's, W.Va. Stonewall Jackson is usually led by four-star running back Ryan Williams, who Pitt offered a scholarship earlier this year. But he had to sit out the event due to a hamstring problem suffered last week.

LaSala noted that typically a few other schools participated in the event, but due to scheduling conflicts couldn't make it this year. A team from Kenton, Ohio usually attends, but the coach's son got married over the weekend. So, the coach sadly had to cancel the trip.

"We try to get the teams some good matchups and good competition on Friday in the round-robin portion of the event,'' LaSala said. "They're guaranteed five games. Then, we re-seed the teams from 1-40.

"And we have four 10-team double-elimination tournaments. Every team is guaranteed two games Saturday for seven total. That's good work against some quality competition, and that's what we want to give them.''

Several teams started out strong with Gateway, North Allegheny, Thomas Jefferson and Clairton going 2-0 to open the event. The Gators opened against Pittsburgh Central Catholic in a likely Quad-A playoff preview, and the Gators sealed a 13-12 win with a late interception.

"There's a lot of great competition,'' Gateway coach Terry Smith said. "You have teams from all over the East Coast, and Pitt does a great job providing some good matchups. So, it's a great experience for us, as a high school, to see where we are at this point in the summer in our progression.

"Central Catholic is always a perennial power, but we can compete. We played them in a tournament at our place this past weekend, and it was the same thing. We had a one-point victory, and then they beat us on the last play in another game. So, it's always nip-and-tuck with those guys.''

Smith added that while local rivalries were maintained, this tournament was an opportunity to match up against other teams that one might not normally see. But it's also an opportunity for the players to build camaraderie.

"It's great for the kids to get out there playing together and communicating with one another,'' Smith said. "That's what it's all about in the fall. You need good communication on the field, so this is the first step to get them to do it. And we're very happy to have this opportunity.''

Clairton beat Crossland and Indiana, as Pitt commit Manny Williams starred on both offense and defense. In the opener, he caught two touchdown passes and had an interception. He primarily played offense in the second game, as the Bears won going away. But don't expect Williams to lobby Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt to be a two-way player when he plays for the Panthers next year. He'll just be a safety on defense.

"I do everything in high school, so it would be no big deal,'' Williams said. "I never really come off the field at Clairton, so I'll want to do everything I can when I come to Pitt. We're having a good time, but it's tough for us because we're a blitzing team. And we can't do any of that here, but it's all right. We're still doing pretty well.''

There were also 16 high school teams (eight players each) in the second Big Man Challenge run this year by strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris with assistance from video coordinator Chad Bogard.

The Pennsylvania high schools were Frazier, Gateway, Indiana, Kiski, Manheim Township, Mount Pleasant, North Star, Perry, Pine-Richland, Saltsburg, Shady Side, Steel Valley and Trinity. There also were teams from East Liverpool, Ohio, St. Mary's, W.Va. and Stonewall Jackson in Manassas, Va.

The events took place indoors and were somewhat different than last year, as expected, with Morris in charge. The events included a bench press (185 pounds, total reps), trap bar dead lift (350 pounds, total reps), 30-pound medicine ball toss backward (overhead for distance, total yardage), backward sled drag relay (225 pounds), truck tire flip relay, 200-yard medley relay (backward sled drag, tire flip, pull the trap bar and 50-yard dash).

The top four teams were involved in a tug-of-war with the final two competing in the event again for the title and a 16-pound sledge hammer trophy. Gateway was the defending champion.

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