Every year since Dave Wannstedt came here, the number of true freshmen playing right away becomes less and less. Still, each year since he's been here, at least one freshman has made an immediate impact.
In 2005, it was LaRod Stephens-Howling that helped out a much needed running back position, that had no one returning. In 2006, the much-anticipated 2006 recruiting class got here, filling several holes. Players like Jason Pinkston, Joe Thomas, Nate Byham, Dorin Dickerson and John Malecki played roles right away. In 2007, LeSean McCoy and Pat Bostick came on to start at much-needed skill positions. The following year, in 2008, Jon Baldwin gave McCoy a weapon to divert attention away from, while players like Lucas Nix, Andrew Taglianetti and Antwuan Reed filled valuable roles.
Predicted to win the Big East in 2009, and coming off a nine-win season the previous year, the number of true freshman that played dwindled down to three. All three were vital to the Panthers' success. Dion Lewis came on to set school rushing marks, while he was complemented by Ray Graham. Graham also contributed as a kick returner. Dan Mason earned Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors in his first career start.
Entering 2010, it was unknown if any freshmen would see the field. With one week of training camp left, there is an unknown player, of sorts, that is in excellent position to see the field, and his chances seem to get better by the day. It's K'Waun Williams, a cornerback from St Joseph Regional, in Paterson, N.J.
"I've just been coming out and practicing hard every day," Williams said. "I'm just studying my playbook. Coaches are seeing that, and I'm just trying to play."
Almost every day of camp, Williams' name comes up in post-practice talk, either with a teammate, or with Wannstedt. Williams came here to a position of need, but only had another offer, from Akron. He committed to the Panthers last June, all 5-9, 180 pounds of him. By the time he arrived at Pitt in June, he was at 5-10, 175. It might only look an inch taller, but head coach Dave Wannstedt noticed a different player walking on campus for the first time.
"It's funny because most skill guys come in about the same height, weight and speed from when we recruited them, and he's one guy that I think is two inches taller and 10 or 15 pounds heavier from when we signed him," Wannstedt said, after the second day of camp.
Looks are one thing, but playing on the field, is another thing. This year's corner position is one of the question marks on this roster. Antwuan Reed has been pretty consistent throughout all of camp. He is the one corner who should lock down a starting spot. Ricky Gary has remained consistently with the first team, but his play with that group has been inconsistent.
After that, anything goes. Junior-college transfer Saheed Imoru was brought here to add depth, and possibly start or contribute right away. That now looks shaky because of Imoru still learning the system, and not making plays in the secondary. It also looks shaky, because Williams seems to have a better grasp on the system, and has been making players.
Towards the end of the first week, Imoru and Williams started sharing more reps as the second-team corner. Williams found himself as the second-team corner for Pitt's first scrimmage on Saturday, as well as the next practice on Sunday.
One thing that seems to be helping Williams, is the schemes that Pitt runs. He credits his high school coaching for preparing him in college, and says the system and terminology is similar.
"It's a little similar to high school, but it's a lot more plays," Willliams said. "I'm just coming out and working every day. It's a lot more intense, you have the film, you have to make sure every thing is all right; the alignments, and everything."
Lewis came to Pitt as a relatively unknown too, also out of New Jersey. Williams was ranked the number-100 corner in the country, in last year's rankings. Already a week into his first full camp, he's looking to be in the top-four--a member of Pitt's two-deep--for the season opener at Utah. Williams is the same type of humble that Lewis is, when describing his goals.
"I just wanted to come here and show them I can play, and that I can work," Williams said. "I'm just coming out here, being motivated, positive, and working every day."
His teammates, however, aren't quite as humble when describing him. Mason, who played and started as a freshman, and is now the signal-caller for the defense. He knows and has experienced how tough it is to break through in starting as a true freshman. Mason has taken notice of everything Williams has been doing.
"(The freshmen) are battling their hearts out," Mason said. "Every other play, K'Waun, he's a baller--making big plays. He's making plays every practice. He's consistent."
While Mason sees things on the same side, take it from a player who has had to be defended by Williams a lot of camp--receiver Greg Cross. Cross meets up with Williams almost daily, whether it's one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens, or in the full 11-on-11 situations. Keep in mind Cross has four years experience on Williams at the collegiate level.
"The freshman corner, K.K, he really came in and stepped up," Cross said. "I love the way he plays. He's really my favorite, I guess you can say, camp player. He gets in there, and he's been thrown in the fire (with the first team). As a freshman, getting in there and competing, he shows a lot of heart and attitude to get in there and compete."