Throughout August, new head coach Paul Chryst and the Pitt football team spent each day at…
Throughout August, new head coach Paul Chryst and the Pitt football team spent each day at their facility on the South Side, partaking in a grueling training camp to prepare for the upcoming 2012 campaign. Leading up to our Football Preview on Friday, The Pitt News is proud to present a three-part series titled “Inside Camp” to give you a close-up of what life at training camp was like for the 2012 Panthers. Read part one here.
PART TWO: UNWINDING FROM THE DAY
Each summer when training camp rolls around for the Pitt football team, it’s back to seeing the same faces day in and day out for senior wide receiver Cameron Saddler.
“I haven’t seen anyone different,” Saddler said following a practice of the familiar monotony. “I’m tired of looking at [senior wide receiver Mike] Shanahan.”
The always cheerful Saddler joked that by the midway point of August, his tolerance for his fellow receiver had hit new lows.
“He sits directly across from me at meetings, and I’m so tired of looking at him,” Saddler said with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as usual.
After spending literally all day with each other in close proximity during training camp, practicing each day at Pitt’s South Side facility for at least three hours —and sometimes more — the players had virtually no choice but to get closely acquainted with each other.
The relationship-building aspect of camp continued when the team returned to the dorms for the remainder of the evening. For all but the final few days of camp, the entire team stayed in Sutherland Hall, so the players couldn’t avoid one another, even if they wanted to. But even Saddler admitted that he needed his teammates to keep him “sane” throughout the process, and vice versa.
Although some of the players, including senior center Ryan Turnley, just went straight to bed most days when they got back, others preferred to spend an hour or two watching television or movies, playing video games or just hanging out.
“It’s not right to bed [for me],” sophomore running back Isaac Bennett said. “I probably go to sleep around 10:30 p.m. or 11:30 p.m. But I just eat, finally talk to my girlfriend and that’s it.”
Bennett said he also used that precious downtime simply to chat with teammates and look over a few plays.
“You probably get an hour or two of free time [each day], but you’re still thinking about football in the back of your mind,” he said.
But once the players finished a long day of practices and returned to their dorm rooms, surely the last thing they wanted to watch was football, right?
“SportsCenter” and NFL preseason games were viewing favorites of many players, especially when they could watch some of their former Pitt teammates in action with various NFL teams.
There were exceptions though, such as massive, menacing defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Khaynin Mosley-Smith, roommates who liked to indulge in a little reality TV every once in a while when they turned off ESPN.
“‘Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta’ on VH1, we’re on that a lot,” Donald said. “That comes on at night, so we can try and watch those episodes.”
The players were housed in Sutherland with most team positions sorted on different floors. On each floor, there were a few rooms that became the usual gathering areas, including Saddler and sophomore Ronald Jones’ room for the receivers.
“Jones was assigned to bring the TV, and he brought this little 10-inch TV. He fumbled that one,” Saddler said, shaking his head. “But one night, we all crammed in our room and watched [former Pitt linebacker] Max Gruder play [in an NFL game] and just talked and flipped through a couple channels.”
According to Saddler, players gradually started dispersing to their own rooms before 11 p.m., and, once everyone was gone, he and his roommate, Jones, put on music, talked about practice and eventually fell asleep.
While the receivers relaxed by watching football and television reruns of the film “Hancock” in Saddler’s room to pass time in the evenings, on the special teams floor, senior kicker Kevin Harper — one of the team’s self-proclaimed biggest jokesters — picked up where he left off in the locker room by playing pranks on the underclassmen. One of his go-to moves was putting powder on a piece of paper and taping it to a teammate’s lockbox so that when he opens it, the powder, as Harper described, “antiqued him” in the face.
Unsurprisingly, Harper said he and his fellow special teams members watched comedies such as “Team America: World Police” and “Pineapple Express” just about every night. Like Saddler, it was Harper’s room that was typically the popular post-practice hang-out spot.
“It’s good position bonding because there’s guys that aren’t my age, so I don’t usually hang out with them outside the football field,” Harper said. “It’s good to just get together because these are your position’s players, and you’ve got to be with them all year.”
As for his illustrious practical jokes on the younger guys?
“It’s all good. We all got it when we were freshmen, and I’m sure they’ll do it when they’re upperclassmen. It’s just good bonding time.”
While the players crammed into Sutherland — a blast from the past for juniors and seniors who spent their earlier years living there — those who now live elsewhere during the school year saw their empty off-campus apartments go temporarily unused.
“Me, Shanahan and Saddler live together in an apartment,” Harper said. “We’ve lived there three years, and I’m pretty sure we turned the air conditioning off. Hopefully we did that.”
Though football activities continued through Saturday and Sunday, the weekend did bring a tiny bit of respite for the players. In Bennett’s case, it might have meant a movie night with his roommate and star senior running back Ray Graham.
Thanks to the close-knit nature of training camp, might there be a “bromance” brewing in the Pitt backfield?
“I hate the man, really,” Bennett said, laughing. “No, I’m just kidding, he’s a funny guy. We have all sorts of jokes.”
Be sure to check out part three of “Inside Camp” in The Pitt News’ Football Preview this Friday.