McGee Makes Push

Cedric McGee never saw his spectacular, one-handed catch against Buffalo last week during ESPN's college football video highlights that night, but the Panthers have it immortalized in print and will display it among the many photos that adorn the walls outside the practice facility meeting rooms.

Certainly plays like that or even routine ones, for that matter, have not been displayed by Cedric McGee during the redshirt junior wideout's previous years with the Pittsburgh football team. But this season is different.

"I'm very proud that they're putting up that picture,'' McGee said. "I'm going to have to get one of those myself. (But) I'm just glad I was in there and had a chance to make that play. We have a nice little rotation with our receivers, and we all want to see the next guy do just as good as the other ones. We all push each other to play good, and we make each other a better receiver.''

McGee caught six passes for 55 yards in the opener against Bowling Green and three for 28 against Buffalo, but none were more crucial than the one-hander against the Bulls. It was third-and-short, and McGee ran a crossing route.

Quarterback Bill Stull, who was in the midst of completing 11 straight passes, had that string -- and Pitt's fortunes -- saved when his toss well behind the receiver pulled in by McGee. The Panthers led by just one point at that time, but the play moved the sticks and kept Pitt's scoring drive alive.

"That play saved the game,'' tailback LeSean McCoy said. "He made a great catch. He's a great player, and he gave us a big spark late in the game. He kept the drive going so we could finish the game off. Ced, he can be a play-maker. When he gets the opportunity, he takes advantage of that, and that's all you can ask.''

Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh also believed it was a game-changing play by McGee, and he earned offensive player of the week honors from Pitt's coaching staff as much for the catch itself as it was for its effect on the Panthers. They continued down the field and scored to seal the win.

"The whole team, basically, got up after that,'' McGee said. "It was third down, and we were only up by one point at that time. A couple people had their heads down, even though we were winning, so I guess it sparked the team.

"And we knew we had (the game). For me, it showed that I could do more than just block. But when the play's there, you have to make it. If I get a pass my way, I have to catch it. So, that's what I did.''

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has been raving about McGee since spring drills, even though the player didn't appear to earn that praise just yet. Wannstedt clearly is enamored with the 6-foot-1, 210-pound McGee's physical attributes and toughness, but other than his willingness and ability to block his on-field impact has been negligible during his career.

But it was a difficult transition for McGee, who came to Pitt from Plantation High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"Coming from Florida, actually, it was my first time seeing snow,'' McGee said. "It was real cold and raining on my visit, but when I got here there were four guys from my high school here. Darrell Strong, H.B. Blades and Nick Williams and Matt Chaney, a walk-on kicker.

"That helped the situation out for me a lot. And having Coach Wannstedt come in, too, he knows what it takes to get to the next level. And that's what I want to do after college, play in the NFL. But I still have this season and the next one here to finish my career strong at Pitt.''

McGee played sparingly in 2006, after redshirting as a freshman, but had just one big game at Syracuse in a 21-11 Pitt win. McGee had four catches for 43 yards in that game, but tallied just six for 56 overall with a long grab of 21 yards. Last fall, McGee's impact wasn't much stronger. He had just eight catches for 49 yards, and he has yet to reach the end zone.

"Cedric McGee,'' Wannstedt gushed after the Buffalo game, "I love that guy. ... I've been talking about Ced for three years now. We feel that he's just as much a starter as Oderick Turner and Derek Kinder. The same for T.J. Porter. We have a nice little rotation in there with those guys now.''

McGee led Pitt in receiving during its opener, but he also had a crucial fumble. There was an inadvertent whistle and some confusion with the eventual call, but the result was that the Panthers' momentum was stifled, the field position changed drastically, and Bowling Green eventually scored a touchdown.

"I was always taught that fumbling is the worst thing you can do as an offensive player, but I just had to let go of it and keep playing,'' McGee said. "So, that's what I tried to do the next week. ... I heard the whistle blow when I had the ball, but he said it was after the fumble, and you have to go with what they say.''

Cavanaugh wasn't surprised that McGee bounced back, and he's impressed by what he's seen from him this year. But prior to this season, despite his physical stature, McGee has had a problem staying on the field once he got there.

"This spring camp, probably was the first time I was healthy during the spring, and I was able to make the most of my opportunity,'' McGee said. "We had a new receivers coach here, and I looked at it as a fresh start for me.

"With Coach Bo (Bryan Bossard) here, he gave me an opportunity, and I had to take advantage of it. I'm playing better, I think, because I'm getting more opportunities. When you get a chance, you need to take advantage of it.''

And that's what Pitt is doing when McGee's in the game.

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