The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

January 11, 2013

New Panthers getting jump start on college careers

PITTSBURGH — Tra’Von Chapman is well aware of all he’s giving up. The last semester of high school is supposed to be the time of your life. There’s prom. There’s hanging out with your friends. The countdown to graduation. There’s the long summer anticipating what awaits in the fall.

Yet, the lure of lazy days didn’t appeal to the dual threat quarterback out of Kent, Ohio. He knew he wanted to play college football at Pittsburgh. And he knew he wanted to start as quickly as possible.

So when Chapman finished up his final semester at Theodore Roosevelt High on Jan. 4, he packed his stuff. The next day, he drove to Pitt’s campus. Two days after that, he was sitting in a freshman English class.

Welcome to the rest of your life, kid.

“I wanted to work,” Chapman said. “I didn’t want to play basketball. I don’t think track was needed. I had all my credits. I thought, ‘Hey, why not just get a big jump on school and why not be with my teammates, be around the place that I love?’ I’m very serious about football, so why not take that chance.”

Chapman wasn’t alone. Two Pitt signees – tight end Scott Orndoff and defensive end Shakir Soto – also graduated from high school early and enrolled at Pitt this week eager to get on with the rest of their lives.

Unlike the rest of Pitt’s 2013 recruiting class, Chapman, Orndoff and Soto won’t have to find a way to juggle football and school simultaneously when they arrive on campus over the summer. By then the trio will have a semester of college behind them, know their way around campus and have spring football under their belt.

“This whole week has just been school,” Soto said. “I started off with school and football will work its way in.”

Soto didn’t get much blowback from friends and family back in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., about bolting. He’ll head back in a few weeks for the annual football banquet at G.A.R. High. By then Soto and his size-17 shoes should even know how to navigate Pitt’s somewhat confusing campus in Oakland.

Asked if he was homesick, Soto just laughed. “I’m not missing high school,” he said.

The Panthers also welcomed defensive lineman Tyrique Jarrett from Milford (N.Y.) Academy and welcomed home wide receiver Dontez Ford, a Pittsburgh native who is transferring to Pitt after spending some time at Syracuse.

While Ford will have to wait out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, that’s not the case for Chapman. He’ll be eligible to play right away if he earns the right.

Chapman passed for 5,736 yards and 62 touchdowns and rushed for 1,506 yards and 19 TDs over his junior and senior seasons.

He points to the job Pitt coach Paul Chryst did with quarterback Russell Wilson while both were at Wisconsin in 2011 as proof of what Chryst can do with a mobile quarterback.

Though the Panthers will begin the spring with Rutgers transfer Tom Savage and returnees Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson in a three-way battle to replace Tino Sunseri, Chapman thinks he can make it a four-man race by the time training camp opens.

“When I feel comfortable, when I get a good grasp of my playbook any my environment, I’m going to come in and compete,” he said.

Chapman never wavered in his decision to come to campus in January, even after Chryst’s name came up as a possible coaching candidate at Wisconsin. When Chryst made it obvious he was staying put, Chapman could sense some forward momentum building as the Panthers prepare to head to the ACC in the fall.

“Now (the players) know coach Chryst is for real,” Chapman said. “They know their coaches are for real and they’re going to give it everything they’ve got.”

And like Soto, Chapman is far from homesick. He woke up early on the first day of class only to realize he and roommate Orndoff could hang out until class began at 4:30 p.m.

“I’m just walking around and I come home, dinner’s not on the table, you go out to eat and stuff like that,” Chapman said. “It’s like, ‘Cool, I got some freedom now.’ But you’ve got to know how to handle it.”

Notes: The Panthers released their 2013 home/away schedule on Friday. Pitt will host Notre Dame and ACC opponents Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia next fall as well as Villanova and New Mexico. The Panthers will play at Navy and ACC rivals Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke and Syracuse.

 

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