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April 18, 2013

Welcome mat rolled out for Pitt personnel

JOHNSTOWN — Pitt is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference during the upcoming football season.

Paul Chryst is staying on as the Panthers’ head coach.

Both story lines were hot topics surrounding the Pitt program this offseason.

While the move to the ACC from the Big East has generated considerable excitement, it’s just as significant to the Panthers that Chryst will be back for a second season, thus stopping a coaching carousel in Pittsburgh over the past three years. When the Wisconsin head job opened, speculation surfaced that Chryst might return to the program where he  both played his college career and spent seven seasons as an assistant coach before moving to Pittsburgh.

But Chryst remained a Pitt guy, much to the relief of Panthers fans craving some stability.

“You learn about your team. You learn about your guys, and they know about us,” Chryst said of the difference a year has made in the Steel City.

Chryst headlined a group of Pitt coaches and broadcasters participating in a “Night with the Panthers” presented by the Johnstown Panther Club on Thursday at Sunnehanna Country Club. Former Panthers quarterback and current color analyst Pat Bostick attended as well as new head wrestling coach Jason Peters, assistant men’s basketball coach Pat Sandle and head women’s soccer coach Greg Miller.

“There are some natural advantages and some of the systems are in place. It’s a review,” Chryst said. “It’s tweaking things more than it is installing something completely different. A lot of the guys are familiar with their position coaches.

“The biggest thing is we’ve got a better feel for the guys, they’ve got a better feel for us and we’ve got a better feel for what this team needed and needs.”

The Pitt program’s move to the ACC has created a buzz, especially for football and men’s basketball.

The Panthers will open the 2013 season against Florida State on Sept. 2 at Heinz Field. ESPN will televise the game. Pitt also will play ACC opponents Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Syracuse and Miami.

“Guys are certainly excited about the whole schedule,” Chryst said. Pitt has a Nov. 9 date with visiting Notre Dame.

“Certainly we’re going to be tested right from the get-go,” he said. “The thing I like right now, the main focus is on ourselves and how we can get better. No question they’re excited about how we’re starting, and it’s a good reminder that we’ve got to get better this summer.”

Pitt finished 6-7 last season, 3-4 in the Panthers’ final Big East appearance. Chryst’s team lost to Mississippi in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The Panthers will have a new quarterback for the first time in three years this season after the graduation of veteran starter Tino Sunseri.

Senior Tom Savage and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik had much of the workload this spring. In limited time in the Blue-Gold spring game, Savage completed 6 of 11 passes for 80 yards. Voytik was 27 of 33 for 358 yards and three touchdowns.

Pitt also will have a new-look backfield after 1,000-yard rusher Ray Graham’s career concluded and Rushel Shell left the team following a 677-yard effort as a freshman.

“I’m not going to go into all the details with that,” Chryst said when asked about hometown product Shell’s departure. “We wanted the best for him. I’m sure things will work out for him. There was a couple different things.”

Junior Isaac Bennett had a solid spring and ran for 114 yards in the Blue-Gold game. Senior Desmond Brown gained 90 yards in the spring game.

“All the backs that we had flashed. They also did some stuff that needs to be cleaned up and you better get it cleaned up in a hurry,” Chryst said. “Obviously they’ve got some talent. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t have talent. They’ve got to be more consistent.”

Chryst also praised Richland High graduate Marco Pecora for his Pitt career. The Johnstown Panthers Club honored Pecora, who lettered three times as a defensive back and special teams player.

Pecora walked on to the football team in 2008 and eventually was awarded a full scholarship.

He was a two-time Big East All-Academic Team pick who earned his degree in history in 2012 and is pursuing a master’s degree.

An injury kept Pecora out of the lineup last season.

“Having been around Marco for a year, not as long as I would’ve liked, there’s a guy who even though he was out for the season he came back and helped us in coaching,” Chryst said. “He’s respected by the players. That says a lot.

“He’s sharp. I was excited to see him (Thursday). He’s a guy who is tough and likes football. I’ve really got a lot of respect for Marco. He’s worthy of any honor he gets, and he’s a guy Johnstown certainly can be proud of.”

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