Stull Stoked

After a brief conversation with Bill Stull and watching him throw the football, it's no wonder that the Pitt football coaches are less concerned about the Panthers' quarterback situation than they were at this time last year.

Sure, Bill Stull has barely played one full game total in three seasons at Pittsburgh, including short mop-up roles in six contests as a freshman and sophomore, but he lasted a little more than one half in last year's season-opener (14-for-20 for 177 yards and one touchdown) before a right thumb injury forced him to have season-ending surgery.

And two quarterbacks with sophomore eligibility, Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith, actually have the most experience after playing extensively last fall. Incoming junior-college transfer Greg Cross is also in the mix.

"We have a great group of quarterbacks, a lot of depth there,'' Stull said in a recent interview. "That's a big change from this time last year. And I'm more than ready for the season to start, for camp to begin, because it's been so long. ... And there's a lot of high expectations for this season.

"We finished strong last season, so everybody expects more from us this season, the fans, the coaching staff and of course, the players, we expect a lot from ourselves. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this program since the season ended, just so we can take it to another level.''

Buddy Morris, Pitt's strength and conditioning coach, made sure the Panthers left those fluids in the weight room, on the hill during weekly runs and during other workouts throughout the offseason. Every player who has spoken with Panther Digest to this point has praised their teammates for putting in a lot of hard work and dedication to the program since last season ended.

It's been more than a year since Morris returned to Pitt, and the Panthers are showing the results off the field. Stull believes that this will be the season that they'll finally show it on the field on a consistent basis.

"We have so much talent on this football team, but I think that we're just starting to realize how much we really have,'' Stull said. "All we need to do is just utilize it and not hurt ourselves with penalties or other mistakes. Of course, I was really excited going into last season, had a good camp and a good start.

"But, then, I got hurt. It was a weird injury, kind of a freak thing. So, I know what it takes to get the job done, but I also know what it is to have it taken away. That's for sure. I never thought it would take the entire season for me to recover, but it was a long rehab process and really a struggle.

"I've always been a hard worker, and I worked very hard to get ready for last season,'' Stull added. "But I think I've worked 10 times harder since last season ended. Going through what I did really puts a fire under your butt, because I know that any play can be my last. But I've worked very hard to make sure there's a smaller chance that it might happen. So, I'm ready to go.''

While it won't be evident on the playing field for another couple weeks, after Stull and Pitt get a couple training camp practices under their belts, but there's certainly tangible evidence by just looking at the quarterback. Stull clearly is bigger and stronger, now 212 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

That's the effect from constantly working out, but that's all Stull could do since he couldn't even grip a football until Game 11 against South Florida. He opened last season at about 200 pounds, but said he dropped to about 180 after the surgery and during the ensuing weeks.

"I didn't even try to throw a football until the week leading up to the West Virginia game,'' Stull said. "It was unbelievable, how long it took, but that was a critical point in time for me. I thought I'd never get there. And by the time spring practice began, I was much better.

"And during our first team practice period, I got hit and realized that everything was going to be all right. I was healthy again and ready to start gearing up for the next season. It's almost here, and I can't wait. That first practice at camp, I really can't wait for it. It can't get here soon enough.''

While Bostick certainly proved to be a more than capable starting quarterback, he will have a difficult time beating out Stull during camp. But that competition will just make the Panthers deeper and more talented this season.

"There's a lot to like about our team this year,'' Stull said. "Our defense is going to be great again, even better than last season, I would think. But we're not going to take a back seat to anybody on offense. We are so talented at every position and deeper than we've been in years on the offensive line.

"Everybody knows about Shady (running back LeSean McCoy) and our wideouts like Derek Kinder, T.J. Porter and Oderick Turner. And Nate (Byham) at tight end. But take a guy like Dorin Dickerson at tight end. He didn't even play offense last year. We'll need guys like him with defenses trying to stop Shady.

"I could hit Dorin with a two-yard pass from our goal line,'' Stull added, "and he could take it the remaining 98 yards for a score. He's just another playmaker that we need to try to get the ball to this year. We want to get Shady his touches, but we can spread the ball around a lot on offense.''

Stull's return to the lineup this past spring went without a hitch despite a new center snapping him the ball, as Pitt brought in junior-college transfer Robb Houser to win the job. He apparently did that, and Stull couldn't be happier.

"He's my man,'' Stull said. "Everything went good with us in the spring, and we picked right up again this summer. We have a lot of chemistry and took almost every single snap together since he got here. Robb's a hard worker and a great guy. He's hilarious, too, by the way. But, more importantly, he'll be a good leader for our offensive line. And we have a lot of leaders.

"The upperclassmen on this team are tired of losing. Guys in my class, we've had three straight years of it, but it ends now. We can't have it anymore. We've worked too hard and have come too far. When somebody starts slacking off, we just have to say the words Bowling Green, and they pick it up. That game is (34) days away. I have a countdown, and we'll be ready for that.''

And that's why Pitt's quarterback situation is much better off now than it was at this time last year.

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