Ricky Gary's Pitt career has gone up and down. He had his chances to start early in his career, only to let it slip away. He started the first three games of his redshirt freshman year, before getting bothered by an ankle injury.
"It's been up and down here," Gary said, of the roller-coaster ride of injuries he's had to battle through. "I started a couple games (in 2007). Then, I get hurt, then I get put back in the starting lineup. I started my redshirt freshman year, then I got injured. I hurt my ankle again."
He started the final five games of his redshirt sophomore year, filling in for an injured Aaron Berry. Same thing last year--he started the Rutgers and the West Virginia games, both times filling in for an injured Berry. His entire career to this point revolved around either being out from an injury, or filling in for someone because of an injury.
"That's when AB got hurt, then I had to replace him," Gary said. "I was playing good. Then, I started playing good, then I hurt my ankle. I came back, but I wasn't in the starting lineup anymore."
For starters, Gary feels the reason he had such a strong camp in 2010, was his health.
"It's as healthy as I've ever been here," Gary said. "My goal is to get my quickness back. I've had ankle problems since I've been here, so just trying to get some of that quickness back. I've been working with Buddy (Morris), doing different things that he knows are going to benefit me. They help."
It was this past spring where he reached the ultimate frustration. Recovering from a shoulder injury, Gary was forced to miss spring drills. Of all springs to miss, he has to sit out the one prior to his senior season, the one without Jovani Chappel and Berry no longer ahead of him in terms of experience.
Once again, injury stood in Gary's way. Before, with his previous injuries, there was always time. There was always another season. He no longer felt that cushion.
"It was rough, but I feel being out in the spring benefited me," Gary said. "It made me hungry, it made me become more of a student of the game. I just buried myself. I knew I had a big role in the (secondary meeting) room. I was the only senior corner, so I knew I had to come out hard every day."
In the early goings of camp, Gary got off to a slow start. Almost daily, Tino Sunseri picked on him, when he was defending Jon Baldwin. What happened, was that he didn't so much hit a boiling point where he was tired of getting picked on. He simply figured things out.
"After a certain point, you know a receiver can't do a 25-yard comeback," Gary said. "I just know right there, it's a deep ball, so I turn around, and got my head around. That's the way--when I turned my head around, I saw the ball coming, and I just hopped on it. It's just making the extra play."
Gary had an interception during Friday morning's practice, then responded with two more in the afternoon practice.
"He came out here today, and had as good a day as he's had since he's been a Panther," head coach Dave Wannstedt said after that Friday practice. "And that's great. We need him to make plays. We need him to be a leader. That was good to see."
With his health in order, he credits Buddy Morris and company for at least putting him in position to be on the field, competing.
"Just being hungry, just wanting to get better, just coming out every day, and getting in better shape," Gary said. "God knows it's going to make me better, and make the team better, if I get better. Being physical, working with the trainers and Buddy, getting my shoulder right, getting my whole entire body stronger, so it allows me to stand my ground more and be physical."
With that conditioning in order, combined with the competition factor Gary receives from Baldwin and the other receivers, the redshirt senior proved himself this training camp, and is ready to go.
"(Baldwin) makes you want to come out and compete," Gary said. "If you don't, he really can expose you. If you're a competitor, you're not just going to come out, stay, and let him run all day, if you have any type of pride. He's just making it hard on us. All of the receivers are. They are just going hard. I'm not going to let them beat me, and they're not going to let me beat them."