Dazzling Dion

There are those who might say they knew that Pitt freshman tailback Dion Lewis would have a big game in the Panthers' opener against Youngstown State, even that Lewis would surpass 100 yards and score three times in the first half.

But even Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt was somewhat surprised that Dion Lewis' performance was nearly faultless from the outset.

"He had practiced well,'' Wannstedt said, "but I think until a freshman gets out there in a real game when the lights come on and the crowd and everything that's involved in playing a live college football game you don't really know for sure how a young man is going to react and handle all the outside variables.

"(But) I thought Dion handled everything in a very mature way. He didn't give me the feeling that he was a freshman out there. He handled the good and bad and the ups and downs during the game, and I couldn't be happier.''

That's the biggest compliment Wannstedt can give a player, that he didn't act like a freshman, because the veteran coach has a penchant for playing things close to the vest and not taking chances on inexperienced players or plays that are much different from the norm.

That's why Lewis' performance was so critical. Sure, Wannstedt will say that it gives the Panthers a chance to be balanced on offense. If Pitt runs the ball well it should be able to pass it equally as effectively. But it should mean more for the younger players on the squad. Maybe Wannstedt will trust a younger player earlier and not hang onto an upperclassmen if he isn't performing.

Count Pitt running backs coach David Walker among those who believed that Lewis would have a good game. But he still needed to see him perform well.

"Sure we have potential, but there needs to be production on Saturday,'' Walker said. "The guys have shown they're capable. They understand our system, but we're not going to make any excuses for guys being young and inexperienced.

"That's not going to cut it. So, we're going to go out there and perform. And I've got confidence in our guys that they can go out there and perform for us.''

Lewis wasn't as tough a critic as his coaches.

"We played pretty well offensively,'' Lewis said. "I'm sure there were some little things we can see on film that we can correct, but we put up 38 points. So, that's pretty good. Still, we have a lot of work to do to get where we want to go. (And) my line did a great job opening holes for me.

"They gave me a seam, and I was able to hit it. They have to get all the credit for this one. They really did a great job for me. My first touchdown, it came really quick. I didn't expect it to come that soon, but I was glad to get the opportunity to run the ball a lot in the first half. And I think I took advantage.''

Lewis' performance didn't do anything to change his status, as he secured the starting tailback job in the spring and has maintained it throughout camp.

"I'm smarter than I was in the springtime, and ... that helps you be a better player,'' Lewis said. "So, just being able to see things and reacting to them instead of thinking about them all the time, that's the biggest difference for me. That made it a lot easier during camp.

"My parents were pretty tough when they raised me, but that made me the person that I am today. And pushing me like that forces me to be ready at all times, so that's the outlook that I have. I want to keep working hard and not take anything for granted. Then, I should be all right.''

Wannstedt compared Lewis to former Rutgers' back Ray Rice.

"He can run fast,'' Wannstedt said. "We all know that, but we also know he has really good speed and (that) he's a strong, powerful guy, too. Maybe a little more than people give him credit for.

"I think the reason that he breaks tackles and makes yards ... is that he's more of a downhill runner, a Ray Rice-type of guy. I remember studying him at Rutgers, he had the speed and power to turn it downhill and break tackles.''

Lewis has a chance to be even more successful during his time at Pitt.

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