Pestano Ready To Take The Next Step

Marcel Pestano certainly wasn't a freshman phenom and didn't have that subsequent sophomore slump, but he's definitely trying to make that redshirt junior jump to stardom as a wideout with the Pitt football team.

While he isn't the fastest receiver at University of Pittsburgh, at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Marcel Pestano is among the biggest and toughest. And now that senior Derek Kinder is lost for the season due to a knee injury, Pestano is the most veteran wideout.

"Marcel is very tough, and he runs excellent routes,'' Pitt receivers coach Aubrey Hill said. "He's very fluid, and he's also becoming a good leader. When he's in the huddle, the other players listen to what he has to say. He also leads by example on the football field, so he's our most consistent receiver right now, I'd say, along with Oderick Turner.''

With Pestano, redshirt sophomore Turner, who started last season alongside Kinder, redshirt sophomore Cedric McGee and sophomore Tamarcus Porter, the Panthers are still loaded at wideout even with their most-experienced wideout on the shelf. And when talented freshmen Aundre Wright, Maurice Williams and Aaron Smith are added to the mix, the position is Pitt's deepest.

"There's no question that we have a lot of good receivers on this football team,'' Pestano said. "Losing Derek, that's a big loss, but we're trying to keep everybody on the same page. We all have to step up our game and make as many plays as possible. So, everybody's looking all right at this point, but we know we have to keep it up throughout the season.''

After sitting out his initial season, Pestano caught just one pass for five yards as a redshirt freshman in 2005. Then, last fall, Pestano picked that up to a respectable 28 catches for 424 yards and two touchdowns. But he is expected to double those numbers this season in a more prominent role.

"I feel like I'm having a good camp right now, and I'm trying really hard to step up as a leader for these guys, too,'' Pestano said. "I'm trying to do everything right on the field to set a good example for them, and I want to be the guy the quarterbacks can go to when they need a big play out there.

"You have to be mentally tough, as well as being physically tough, so I just try to get through every practice and try to be a leader out there. I can't let my team down, and I want to get in a position to where my teammates will trust me all the time. If you don't have that, you don't have anything.''

Somewhere along the line, things just started to click for Pestano. He started to improve his game last fall, certainly after Kinder became a double-team target, and he paired with Turner as Pitt's up-and-coming wideouts. Turner had 44 catches for 660 yards and eight scores, but both averaged around 15 yards per catch.

McGee and Porter combined for nine catches and no touchdowns last fall in minor roles. Kinder's 57 catches for 847 yards and six touchdowns are gone, however. He also averaged about 15 yards per catch.

"I'm certainly more mature now, and I realize the opportunity we all have here,'' Pestano said. "All the guys, now that Derek is out, have a chance to step up to help fill that void that his absence brings. It's a big hole to fill, but we have a lot of good players that will get a chance.

"The other thing for us, I believe, is that we're all in much better shape thanks to Buddy Morris. He has us all working a lot harder in the weight room, and we all look a lot more cut up. So, we can take a pounding if we need to out there, and that's taking hits as well as dishing them out.''

Pestano realizes that he only has a couple seasons remaining in college to take his career to another level and set the stage for a possible future in the National Football League. While that could seem like a long time away, he knows that there's no better time than the present to kick it up a notch.

"I feel like I had a small role on the team before, even last year when things were going pretty good, but I have a lot more of my career to finish,'' Pestano said. "And there's a huge difference for me, because there's a lot more weight on my shoulders. So, that's the way I'm looking at it.''

And as the veteran among Pitt's receiving corps, Pestano is ready to handle anything that gets thrown his way.

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