Rewind to Oct. 26, 2011.
On that date, Pitt beat Connecticut, 35-20, at Heinz Field but walked away with a big loss when star tailback Ray Graham suffered a season-ending injury.
Graham’s leg buckled after a tackle on a 1-yard run. He was only 42 yards away from reaching 1,000 yards on the season.
Graham’s back, just a little more cautious.
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst talked about Graham on Monday in his weekly Big East conference call. He said that Graham is still in the recovery process, but making big strides.
“I appreciate the work and effort that he’s put in,” Chryst said. “He’s still progressing, I don’t think he’s 100 percent, but each week he clears some hurdles. He’s gaining confidence. It’s not to a point where he’s taking any steps backwards.”
And Chryst feels there’s no need to rush the process and risk Graham overexerting his knee.
Maybe that’s why Graham is getting less carries this season.
Though he’s not fully recovered, his numbers are still impressive.
Graham is the 29th leading rusher in the nation with 362 yards. His rushing total ranks second in the Big East, behind Rutgers Jawan Jamison, who is fifth in the nation with 491 yards.
Chryst acknowledged Graham’s impressive numbers but still said there’s work to be done.
“Where he’s at in the league doesn’t really matter, none of those things really matter as much as where a guy can be and helping him get to where he’s playing the best he can play,” Chryst said.
Still, fans might be seeing glimpses of the old, quick-footed Graham.
In last week’s 55-10 victory against Gardner-Webb, he outran defenders and found the end zone on a 78-yard touchdown.
“Obviously, it’s a credit to Ray,” Chryst said. “He’s talented and done some good things, but we all can get better here. Being around a full-speed Ray would be a pretty good thing.”
Until that full-speed Graham has returned, other Pitt backs are getting their fair share of touches.
And doing this with impressive results.
Freshman Rushel Shell has seen plenty of action and is averaging a little over five yards a carry. He went for a career-high 157 yards against Virginia Tech.
Sophomore Isaac Bennett has also handed the ball a sufficient amount.
In last week’s game against Gardner-Webb, Bennett finished with 52 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
Chryst said that, despite the backs varied amount of playing time, the game dictates how he will utilize each one.
“You just make sure every guy understands that,” Chryst said. “They know what the deal is, and they’re getting better at practice. They’ll all get their opportunities in games and we’ve got to make sure they’re ready to go. And they’ve got to make sure they’re ready to go when their numbers get called.”
After the win against Virginia Tech, Chryst acknowledged the pride he’s seen in his running back group, perhaps stemming from the great running back tradition at Pitt.
Former running back Curtis Martin was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he joined Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett.
“I think that’s part of the special thing about being at Pitt,” Chryst said. “If you’re a player here, it’s knowing you’re a part of something that’s bigger than you. There’s been greats before you.“
Former Pitt backs Dion Lewis, LeSean McCoy and Johnstown native LaRod Stephens-Howling are all currently playing in the National Football League.
In fact, Graham and Lewis were teammates before Lewis was drafted in 2011. The duo provided a good one-two punch.
If Graham’s numbers are right after this season, he could join the ranks of these former backs.
Rewind to Oct. 26, 2011.
- Minnesota hands out loss to Penn State in regular-season finale
- St. Francis outlasts Sacred Heart
Pitt slips past Clemson in OT
Lamar Patterson had a career-high 30 points, including a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left, as Pittsburgh overcome a five-point deficit in the final seconds of regulation and beat Clemson 83-78 in overtime Saturday.
Patterson’s 3 with 3 seconds left cut the Tigers’ lead to 67-65.
Robert Morris holds off St. Francis in NEC
Karvel Anderson and Lucky Jones came up big again for top-seeded Robert Morris, with 21 and 18 points, respectively, but clutch free throws by David Appolon preserved a 60-57 victory over sixth-seeded St. Francis in a Northeast Conference semifinal on Saturday.
The Colonials (21-12) advance to Tuesday’s championship for the fifth time in six years, facing fourth-seeded Mount St. Mary’s (15-16).
Danel helping Falcons to Division III tournament
When Chelsea Danel was a senior at North Star, the Cougars were able to win a District 5-AA basketball title.
Now Danel, a senior at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, is a key contributor on a Falcons’ hoops squad which upset top-seeded Lebanon Valley 53-47 in the Commonwealth Conference championship on Saturday. It was the ninth title for the Falcons in 13 appearances.
Ferndale grad aiding Duquesne women’s hoops
Matt Schmidt was hired as an assistant coach for the Duquesne women’s basketball team in June.
Now the former Ferndale High School standout will have his first opportunity to experience March madness with the Dukes, who are the sixth-seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament which opened Thursday in Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Va.
Icecats on way to national tournament
The Pitt-Johnstown hockey team needed to overcome some long odds to advance to the ACHA Men’s Division III national championship tournament in Coral Springs, Fla. next week.
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St. Francis wins NEC quarterfinal
Ronnie Drinnon hit a go-ahead basket and a pair of free throws in the final 48 seconds, scoring a career high 20 points as sixth-seeded St. Francis battled past third-seeded Bryant 55-54 in the Northeast Conference tournament Wednesday night.
St. Francis hasn’t been in the playoffs since the 2010-11 season and scrapped past Bryant (18-14) in a closely fought contest that saw five ties and five lead changes – three in the final 3:37.
Wake Forest beats Pitt in ACC opener
Dearica Hamby finished with 25 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and two steals as No. 11 seed Wake Forest women beat 14th-seeded Pittsburgh 72-58 in the first round of the ACC tournament on Wednesday night.
Hamby had a tremendous night in notching her school-record 22nd double-double of the season.
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