Wannstedt Looks To Future

Just minutes after he was doused with Gatorade, signifying Pitt's 19-17 pulsating, comeback win against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl to cap a 10-3 season, Coach Dave Wannstedt basically proclaimed to the ESPN audience in a sideline interview that the Panthers once again were back among the elite football program's in the nation.

Sure, Pittsburgh fell a game short in the Big East title race for a second straight season, but by dominating the All-Conference teams and player of the year awards, as well as several team and individual national rankings throughout the year, the Panthers certainly have progressed to the point where they appear to be talented enough to beat any opponent. They also have proven that they can lose to anyone as well, but the progress is clear.

And according to Wannstedt, with increased talent and improved depth, Pitt is much better off now than a few years earlier. Wannstedt spoke to Joe Bendel on his radio show this week on Fox Sports 970, and he discussed various topics like the Panthers' quarterback situation for next season.

"I've got a lot of confidence in Tino Sunseri,'' Wannstedt said. "Coming out of training camp, and then during the season, fortunately it didn't happen. But if Bill Stull would have gotten hurt, Tino was ready to go. And then we redshirted Pat Bostick, who has a lot of game experience and probably has as much knowledge about what we're doing as most of our coaches.''

Pitt also has Kolby Gray, who will be a redshirt freshman in 2010, and two incoming freshmen -- Anthony Gonzalez and Mark Myers -- who committed consecutively in September during a two-week span.

"We'll see where the young kids are, (but) I'm not counting on the young kids,'' Wannstedt said. "(So), I feel good about Tino, and I feel good about Pat. And we'll see.''

Wannstedt also talked about freshman tailback Dion Lewis, who set various records this season, was the Big East offensive player of the year and received several All-America honors. Lewis ran for 159 yards in the bowl game and finished with 1,799 in 13 games for the Panthers. Lewis broke Pitt legend Tony Dorsett's freshman rushing record.

Dorsett recorded 1,686 yards rushing on 318 attempts in 1973. Lewis' second quarter 11-yard scoring run in the bowl game gave him 17 rushing touchdowns on the season and 19 total (one receiving). Both are Pitt freshman touchdown records. Lewis' 100-yard rushing effort in the bowl game gave him 10 100-yard rushing games this season, which tied Dorsett's freshman record.

Lewis' season rushing total marks the second most yardage by a Pitt player in a single season, surpassing Craig Heyward, who totaled 1,791 rushing yards in 1987 as a Heisman finalist. Lewis' season total is second only to Dorsett's Heisman-winning season of 2,150 yards.

"It was three weeks since we played our last game (before the bowl), and during that three weeks Dion (won a lot of awards),'' Wannstedt said, "and already was mentioned on the Heisman watch for next year. So, he got a lot of accolades during the past three weeks, as we were preparing for this bowl game.

"So, I'm thinking in the back of my mind, that this kid has kept his feet on the ground all season. (The accolades) never affected him. So, I was real anxious to see, with three weeks off and with a lot of people telling him how good he is, if this kid was going to show up. I guarantee that 99 percent of kids, especially a freshman, it would affect them.''

But not Lewis. It's fair to say that Pitt rode him to the victory. And with the season he had, it certainly is fair to say that he is a cornerstone for the program's future. That's just like Dorsett was in 1973. Wannstedt was Dorsett's teammate, and now he's Lewis' coach. So, he's qualified to compare the two.

"I think they're both beyond their years maturity-wise mentally,'' Wannstedt said. "Tony came in and did not act like a freshman, so he and Dion are very similar in that way. They're probably very similar speed-wise if you timed them in the 40. I think Tony probably was a little more of a home-run hitter.

"You know, a take-it-the-distance player, while Dion is more of a make-yards-after-contact player. I think they each have their own style, but there are some similar traits. And they both have that desire to win. They don't let things get in their heads, and they keep their feet on the ground.''

And with Lewis' there, the Pitt football program should continue its ascent.

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