Lee Is Mr. Automatic For Pitt

Conor Lee's life didn't change all that much since the redshirt junior place-kicker converted all six extra-point attempts against Navy last week to set Pitt's career mark with 65 straight.

Actually, it didn't change at all, but that doesn't mean Conor Lee isn't thrilled to set a record in his second season as a starter for Pittsburgh (2-4). It's just that he believes extra points should be automatic.

"I didn't think it was that big of a deal,'' Lee said. "I should make every one, so it's really not that special. But it's a testament to our special teams because you do see guys miss extra points. But it might not be the kicker's fault.

"Sometimes, it's the snap, the hold or you could get it blocked. Extra points can be taken like a given, but you can't take anything for granted. That's why me getting the record is a testament to our entire group.''

Lee, a former walk-on at Pitt from nearby Upper St. Clair High School, actually is the veteran in the group. The holder and snapper are new to the trio this season. Redshirt sophomore walk-on Lucas Stone and redshirt junior Dave Brytus, the Panthers' punter, competed in the spring to replace four-year starting punter and holder Adam Graessle. Stone easily earned the job.

Fifth-year senior Mike McGlynn usually snapped for placements, extra points and field goals, while another former walk-on, redshirt junior Mark Estermyer, was the long-snapper for punts. However, after McGlynn needed right shoulder surgery in the spring, Estermyer worked with the group and became proficient enough to remain there.

"Lucas has done a great job,'' Lee said. "He's done far beyond what I thought he could do. He's been great for us. Our whole operation, the snap the hold, has been great this year. And Estermyer has stepped right in.''

And neither missed a beat as far as Lee is concerned. In his first season as Pitt's starting place-kicker last fall, Lee led the Panthers with 83 points. That's Pitt's third-highest scoring total in the past 25 years behind wideout Larry Fitzgerald's 132 points in 2003 and place-kicker Josh Cummings' 89 in 2004. A Lou Groza Award candidate among the nation's top kickers, Lee has 39 points this season with 7 of 8 field goals made and all 18 extra points.

"I had 47 in a row going into this season, so I thought I had a chance to break it when I looked at everything at the beginning of the year,'' Lee said. "But I was amazed that the record had stood that long. That was one of my goals when I came here to Pitt, I wanted to be one of the best kickers to come through here. So, this is just a step to get there. So, I'm proud of that.''

Lee is quite accurate on field-goal attempts as well. He made 12 of 14 field goals last fall and 7 of 8 this season. Lee missed his first attempt this season, from 42 yards out against Eastern Michigan, but has made seven straight now. Last season, he boomed a career-best 47-yarder, but missed from 19 and 23 yards. It's just that he hasn't had too many attempts.

"I don't care about that right now,'' Lee said. "If I had 12 game-winners, but that was all the field goals I had in the year, that would be the greatest thing ever. That's all I want to kick, game-winners. That Navy game, that was the most confident that I've been in a game. I was so ready to take that step, but I didn't get a chance. I thought it was the right call, though.

"I thought that's what we were going to do. We were just killing them (on offense) all night, so I thought it was the right call to go for it. We just needed two yards and had two downs, so I thought for sure that we would score. I was amazed that we didn't get in there, but I thought it was the right call for our team to take that step and make a big play to get a win.''

Still, Lee was warming up in case there was a penalty or something else occurred to set the offense back. And he continues to work on his kickoffs in case Pitt is disenchanted with Brytus' short kicks and makes a change.

"There's guys out there that I see piping it down there, but I know my leg's stronger than their leg,'' Lee said. "So, I'm working at it, and I'm learning how to get better at it. There's just some technique things that I need to refine, and I know I'll be better next year. But I know I can do it.''

And if Lee's success rate on extra points and field goals are an indication, there's no doubt that will be the case.

Notes: Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt will coach Saturday's game against Cincinnati from the press box, and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh will return to the sideline to guide the Panthers.

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