The Chappel Show

While Jovani Chappel might not have the speed to match a typical college cornerback or the size and power like many safeties, he uses the one attribute that sets him apart from other defensive backs.

That's intelligence. But don't be mistaken. Jovani Chappel is plenty fast, and the sophomore packs a lot of power into his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame. That's why University of Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt made him a key reserve at cornerback as a freshman last fall and had no qualms about moving him to safety this past spring.

"In our defense the safeties get to set fronts and make all the different checks and things,'' Chappel said. "So, it's a lot different, but it's nothing I can't handle being an intelligent guy on defense. So, there definitely is a difference, like what I see as a corner and what I need to see as a safety.

"That's a big one, too. So, it's different in those aspects, but it's the same as far as playing football is concerned. I don't think the change elevated my playing time, but I'm learning a lot from our fifth-year senior starter, Mike Phillips, who also is a very intelligent guy. He has taught me a lot.''

Phillips basically is in his fourth season as a starter, so Chappel couldn't have a better tutor. But the powerfully-built Chappel is still the No. 1 player off the bench when the Panthers go to their nickel or dime (passing) defense. So, what he learned playing cornerback and what 's gleaning as a safety has been invaluable.

"I take every opportunity that I can, even though some people might think this change was a reason for me to be upset, because it seemed like I was working my way to be in there more often as a corner,'' Chappel said. "But I don't look at things that way. I take it as an opportunity to learn more about playing in the secondary. The more I know the better I can be.

"And the more I can help this football team. So, that's what I'm trying to do. A lot of corners can cover, but I try to set myself apart with my tackling ability. It was like that for me ever since high school. It helped me to be able to move to safety, so it's been to my advantage from the outset, and I'm always going to work on it to try to improve my game.''

Chappel is also part of Pitt's young secondary corps, after fifth-year seniors Phillips and Kennard Cox and redshirt junior Eric Thatcher. There's sophomore cornerback Aaron Berry, freshman safety Dom DeCicco and redshirt freshman corner Ricky Gary, along with several incoming recruits at the position next year.

"There definitely is a bright future at the position here,'' secondary coach Chris Ball said. "And if they all worked as hard as Jovani we wouldn't have to worry about any of them. That doesn't mean they don't, because we have a good group of guys, but Jovani really pushes it to the limit.''

Chappel was a hard worker before he arrived at Pitt, so his work ethic has not been a surprise. He graduated early from Trotwood-Madison High School in Ohio and participated in spring drills with the Panthers in 2006.

"It really was beneficial, I would say, from the adjustment part,'' Chappel said. "And it's more than just football. It was important for me as far as academics were concerned and also just from me being away from home. But I had the whole spring and summer to get acclimated to my new situation and to ease into things on the football field as well as in the classroom.

"That allowed me to be as ready as possible once camp started and then the regular season got underway. A lot of guys struggle when they come in right before camp, even if they can get here in the summer, but I was able to come in early and that really has paid off for me.''

And the dividends have been high for Pitt as well.

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