Pitt Winds Down Bowl Practices

This was a big week for the Pitt football team: A big recruiting weekend started it off, solid practices followed and good news with final grades capped it.

The best news with final grades concerned junior defensive tackle Tommie Duhart, who has been hampered by an ankle injury, attitude problems and academic issues from the outset this season. It turns out that while Duhart basically is on a short leash, he is academically eligible and will make the trip to the Sun Bowl. His status, however, is day-to-day like an NHL injury.

Pittsburgh (9-3) faces Oregon State (8-4) Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. in El Paso, Texas.

"(Duhart) will be back for sure,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said Friday. "As long as Tommie continues to do everything that he's supposed to do, he'll get an opportunity to play. And it's not just football.

"It's everything, school, the weight room, everything. We don't have sometime players here. Life as a Pitt Panther, there's no gray area. You're either in or you're not. You've got to do everything.''

The only scholarship player to not make it for academic reasons was freshman cornerback Ronald Hobby, who actually left high school early and has been enrolled at Pitt since January. His future status is up in the air, but he might not be back in the spring.

Walk-on Josh Marks is long gone and won't be returning. Take your pick: grades, going to class, attitude, weight room, practices. He didn't give much effort in either area. A scholarship freshman at Penn State last year, Marks had the same problems there and was let out of his scholarship to walk on at Pitt. So, this basically was his second strike. He might not get a third, but who knows?

Wannstedt wanted to point out that while the Panthers were solid in the classroom this semester, four players who have started in their careers at Pitt have done exceptional work and should be cited for it.

"The most encouraging thing with all the academics, to me,'' Wannstedt said, "was that Rashaad Duncan, LaRod Stephens, Conredge Collins and C.J. Davis, all these kids started as freshmen. They have not been redshirted. Two need eight credits to graduate (in the spring, 2009), and two of them need 10 credits.

"So, they'll all have their degrees in four years, and they all have been starters. So, to me, that's about as rewarding as it gets. I think that through all the ups and downs, they have been very consistent and steady, not just with how they approached football, but in their weight room work and their school.

"They've done everything and bought into everything just the way you would hope that freshmen would,'' Wannstedt added. "And they've finished strong in their careers at Pitt. That's really something to be proud of.''

Even though the Panthers apparently are intelligent enough to pick things up quickly, Wannstedt noted that there won't be any drastic additions to the playbook on offense or defense before the bowl game.

"With all the time a coach has after the regular season ends, you really can get caught up in that,'' Wannstedt said. "But it just doesn't need to be done, drawing up all kinds of new things. Sure, we're going to add some new wrinkles for Oregon State, just like we did for Connecticut.

"But we've got to make darn sure that we do the good things that we've been doing even better now. So, we improve those areas. ... Don't forget, we're a very young team, and we have a lot of room to improve. And that's where I want the focus to be during our workouts going into the bowl game.''

Pitt will practice through the weekend, although the media won't have any access, and then break Monday for Christmas after a light walk-through in the morning. The Panthers will return Dec. 26 to leave for El Paso, Texas.

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