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Ejuan Price looking forward to pairing with Dewayne Hendrix

Ejuan+Price+looks+forward+to+playing+with+Dewayne+Hendrix+%7C+Jeff+Ahearn+%2F+Assistant+Visual+Editor
Ejuan Price looks forward to playing with Dewayne Hendrix | Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Ejuan Price looks forward to playing with Dewayne Hendrix | Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Ejuan Price looks forward to playing with Dewayne Hendrix | Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

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Last season, Ejuan Price was undoubtedly ‘the guy’ on Pitt’s defensive line. With top-end quickness and pass-rushing technique, Price amassed 11.5 sacks.

Now, Price might have some competition in that proverbial pecking order. After sitting out the past season due to transfer rules, Dewayne Hendrix has been a spring practice star, sacking the quarterback 4.5 times in Pitt’s first scrimmage.

Not that Price is complaining — especially if that means fewer double teams for him.

“Hopefully Dewayne gets them all,” Price said with a laugh. “Hopefully I get all the one-on-ones.”

Hendrix, a defensive end transfer from the University of Tennessee, is primed to start opposite Price, who the NCAA granted a sixth year of eligibility after  missing extensive time in past years from injuries. And with that talented duo of new and old in tow, the Panthers’ pass rush is primed to haunt opposing backfields.

Though Pitt’s coaches have been careful of heaping too much praise on Hendrix, it hasn’t stopped his teammates from continuing to fuel the hype train. Coaches and teammates often use the word “beast” when describing the transfer defensive end. Price called him it, as did linebacker Mike Caprara.

For defensive coordinator Josh Conklin, he’ll say that Hendrix — standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 240 pounds — just physically looks like a big-time player.

“He’s an SEC defensive end. When you look out there, there’s a marked difference in terms of what he looks like,” Conklin said. “Speed matters, strength, power and all that … He’s got all the skill set to be a really special player for us.”

Last season, Hendrix spent his time on the scout team, where he would mimic future opponents to better prepare the offense. The experience made him a better player, Hendrix said, as well as more comfortable with Pitt’s playbook.

“Starting off, it was pretty tough, but I just had to look at the bigger picture,” Hendrix said. “I knew it could make me better, so I just looked at it that way.”

For all the superlatives coaches can heap upon Hendrix, it’s his work ethic that has caught the eye of defensive line coach Tom Sims.

“Dewayne’s a hard worker and he plays hard,” Sims said. “That’s the foundation of success at what we do: You’re developing the right habits and working to be as good as you can be, and he definitely is doing that right now. And if you can combine that with talent you can go a long way.”

Though inconsistent play from Pitt’s other defensive ends plagued the team last season, Price said he has found a companion who can motivate him competitively in Hendrix.

“I feel like we push each other,” Price said. “I’m sure he wants to be the guy as well as I want to be the guy, so we’re always trying to take that top spot.”

After earning First Team ACC honors last season, Price is the known commodity of the two. Still, Sims hopes to see Price treat practices with the same attitude of someone with a lesser pedigree.

“I want him to work like he’s an unknown commodity. I want him to come out here with the mindset that he has something to prove every single day,” Sims said. “It’s about getting to the point where he is the best he can possibly be.”

Price says he’s done that, as he said he put in the requisite work over the offseason to reach his statical goal, which is to beat his sack total from the previous year. He’s focusing on sharpening up his technique and physique during the spring, which he said will help him reach the next level.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have Hendrix on the other end to help take pressure off him.

“I feel like if you try to key on somebody, somebody else is going to make a play,” Price said. “[The defensive line is] pretty well-balanced at this point.”

No matter the competition, the relations between the two still remain friendly. If anything, it’s Hendrix trying to match Price’s play. After watching Price tear through offensive lines from the sideline, Hendrix hopes to replicate the senior’s performance.

“It motivates me a lot. He’s like a role model for me,” Hendrix said. “I look at everything he does and try to mimic it.”

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Ejuan Price looking forward to pairing with Dewayne Hendrix