Panther Profile: Tino Sunseri

Over the next few weeks as the Panthers prepare for spring practice, the Pantherdigest will be profiling the members of the class of 2008 that will land in Oakland this year. You will read several interesting stories beginning with state champion quarterback Tino Sunseri.

So you think you have future Pittsburgh Panther quarterback Tino Sunseri figured out?

Figure that he changed his mind on attending Louisville because, after all, his father Sal Sunseri is a Panthers' legend? Because he can follow the footsteps of Dan Marino, Shane Murray and, in a roundabout way, Joe Felitsky of Central Catholic quarterbacks who went on to University of Pittsburgh stardom?

Maybe. Maybe not.

"I'm a ‘y'all' guy, not a ‘yinz' guy," Sunseri said.

Sunseri says that because although he was born in Pittsburgh and has lived in Western Pennsylvania longer than any other part of the country, it still only constitutes a third of his life.

His formative early teen years were spent in the Charlotte area as his father coached the Carolina Panthers defensive line for John Fox. Perhaps as a result of this southern upbringing, he consistently addresses his elders with courtesy titles and responds to their answers with "Yes, sir" and "No, sir."

Take away the six years Tino spent in Pittsburgh and the five in Charlotte, and his life has been transient as his father took on coaching jobs at Iowa Wesleyan, Illinois State, Louisville, Alabama A & M, Louisiana State, and Michigan State.

In fact, Tino spent as many years starting for North Carolina Class 4A Weddington High School as he did at Central Catholic.

But then again, even when he says he's trying to get readjusted to Pittsburgh winters or that his musical tastes lie in the somewhat unusual blend of rap and country, there are things that make you realize that Tino is Sal's little boy.

Like when he admits his favorite food is his mother's lasagna, or that like so many of the men in his family have helped out on occasion as a laborer at Sunseri-family owned Pennsylvania Macaroni, or even his fondness for Squirrel Hill pizza shops.

"I'm an Aeillo's Boy," he says proudly. "That's where my dad grew up. Our family tradition was when I went to visit my Grandma, the first meal back when I came to Pittsburgh was always to go to Aeillo's Pizza."

As it happened, this Murray Avenue establishment has also been the longtime gathering place for Central Catholic football players and fans to meet after games.

"I was elated because I knew what it was all about," Tino said.

So, to help bring his linemen in for Wednesday film study and to thank them for a job well done, Sunseri would always bring in some pizza and hoagies. "I'll do the same at Pitt," Sunseri said. "It's a way to sit down and watch film together and have fun.

"My dad taught me the importance of preparation," he continued. "A lot of people who don't do extra work or film study are lazy. He taught me not to be lazy and work harder."

Much of that future film study will take place in UPMC's "Dan Marino Room."

And a year and a half ago, Sunseri met with Marino at a Central Catholic function for a heart-to-heart talk about quarterbacking.

"Mr. Marino comes back and is very supportive of Central Catholic," Tino said. "I picked his brain on how he got the edge with other people."

Sunseri admits to being a "stunned" when he first met the Panthers' great, but then overcame some of his awe to take in the lessons Marino was preaching. As for what the lessons were, Sunseri says "I can't tell you that or I'll lose my edge!"

While one can't blame Sunseri for trying to avoid the inevitable comparisons to Marino, his secrecy of this conversation is typical of many quarterbacks.

Sunseri is also displaying leadership abilities by befriending future teammates.

One of the major influences that convinced Sunseri to sign with Pitt was the fact Central Catholic teammate Andrew Taglianetti had committed to the Panthers.

"It's always good to be with someone you go to school with," Sunseri said.

But in addition to his old Vikings teammates, Sunseri is befriending many of the other WPIAL players Pitt has signed.

Including running back/wide receiver Cameron Saddler of Gateway, whose touchdown with a second to play in the 2007 Class AAAA WPIAL championship game allowed the Gators to tie Central Catholic and send the game into overtime, where the Vikings eventually won 35-34 with a Sunseri touchdown.

"We competed at camps and we became friends before we chose to go to Pitt," Sunseri said. "Now, we're going to Pitt basketball games together! Everyone going to Pitt is so nice," he said. "Pittsburgh is a great city, and if you play well [attention and success] will explode up!"

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