And with the talent the Panthers have returning, including an impressive list of freshmen that redshirted as well as incoming recruits, it's no wonder.
Pittsburgh had an opportunity to redshirt 17 freshmen this fall, while Pat Bostick, LeSean McCoy, JaBbaal Sheard, Dom DeCicco and Maurice Williams all had playing time as first-year players. Wideout Aaron Smith, cornerback Buddy Jackson, fullback Henry Hynoski, cornerback Sherrod Murdock, linebacker Brandon Lindsey, running back Greg Williams, running back Shariff Harris, linebacker Max Gruder, offensive lineman Greg Gaskins, defensive lineman Wayne Jones, offensive lineman Jordan Gibbs, offensive lineman John Fieger, wideout Aundre Wright, defensive end Tony Tucker, defensive tackle Myles Caragein and defensive end Justin Hargrove.
"Of the linebackers, I'm really impressed with Max Gruder,'' fifth-year senior right tackle Mike McGlynn said. "He really comes out and works hard every practice, and whether it's a Thursday or Friday practice he's out there going full speed and just running around. I have to tell him to relax, because I'm not going full speed right now, and you're trying to come after me.
"But I've been impressed with him the most, because he's really been working hard to get better. And he really takes every day with a great attitude. Tony Tucker, he's going to be a good player. You'll be surprised once the summer goes by and all these young guys have been with our weight-training program for an entire year, and you'll see the steps that they take to become good football players. So, I think there's a lot of talent over there (on defense).
"On the offensive line, I like Jordan Gibbs,'' McGlynn added. "I think he's going to be a good football player, because he's got a real nasty streak to him. Lumpy's going to be a good football player once he gets back from that knee injury. So, I think they're going to be good the next couple years.''
Another fifth-year senior, defensive end Chris McKillop, has gone up against the freshmen offensive linemen in practice all year and also was impressed.
"Gaskins, he's the strongest 17-year-old that I've seen,'' McKillop said. "He's just buck strong in the weight room. Gibbs, he's really talented. He's an athletic kid, being that was a tight end in high school. And Fieger's coming along. Sometimes, they move him up with the ones and twos and he rotates in there a little bit.
"So, they're all coming along really well. Now, I don't know what they do exactly on a day-to-day basis, because I play defense and they play offense, but just from going up against them it just seems that they've gotten a little better as the season has progressed.''
McGlynn believed that it was imperative for an offensive lineman to redshirt as a freshman. He did that, became a starter midway through his redshirt frosh season and has remained there ever since.
"If you're 17 or 18 years old and coming in here you're playing against 22- or 23-year-old guys that are trying to feed their families,'' McGlynn noted. "So, they're grown men, and these kids are just getting out of the high school prom. But redshirting, for offensive linemen, you're just not ready.
"Redshirting, for offensive linemen, just to get in the weight room for a year and really adapt to the game and have the mentality that this is a physical game. It's not high school. You can't take any plays off.''
Two other freshmen, offensive linemen Dan Matha and Chris (Lumpy) Jacobson, had season-ending injuries in training camp and were redshirted. Sophomore tailback Kevin Collier (broken wrist), sophomore offensive tackle Jason Pinkston (shoulder), senior wideout Derek Kinder (knee), junior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas (knee) and junior quarterback Bill Stull (thumb) needed surgery and were fortunate to have redshirts available. Elijah Fields played sparingly as a freshman in 2006 and was redshirted this season while under suspension for disciplinary reasons.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believed there were a handful of freshmen that he wanted to get some playing experience this season, but in the end he decided to hold them out for a redshirt.
"I just didn't want it to end up like Dorin Dickerson last year (who got) 30 plays and wasted the year,'' Wannstedt said. "Him or Elijah Fields.''
This season, the Panthers have made sure the freshman redshirts have stayed interested by involving them in a brief scrimmage Sunday night. Pitt also held an intrasquad scrimmage outdoors between its young players Wednesday afternoon, as the Panthers have a bye week.
"It was good, because we were able to get out there and scrimmage with the freshmen, the young kids, the redshirts,'' Wannstedt said. "There was a lot of energy. We weren't out there long, but it was productive. We started scrimmaging every Sunday night, about 15-20 plays with the freshmen, the guys that basically don't play, but even some that do like Dom DeCicco and Jabaal Sheard get in. They'll scrimmage and get some more reps.
"And then, the next day when we're watching the opponent. They'll come in and watch themselves scrimmage a little bit. It gives us a chance to coach them. It gives them a chance to compete a little bit, and it brings a little energy to the practice. (But) it's going to be a good group. Shariff Harris showed up today. Myles Caragein showed up today. Max Gruder made a play. Aundre Wright, every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath. So, it's going to be good, but there's only one football, unfortunately.''
In the scrimmage Wednesday, redshirt freshman Steve Malinchak tossed a touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Dustin Walters, who beat Fields on the play. Harris had several big runs, including a touchdown burst from the 1 to end the scrimmage. Gruder came up and drilled Harris and his blocker, redshirt sophomore fullback Chris Bova, for a five-yard loss. And Wright plowed Murdock on the sideline when the cornerback came up to make a hit.
Wait 'Til Next Year!
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