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Pitt seniors will be remembered for consistency and leadership

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Pitt seniors will be remembered for consistency and leadership

Seniors Qadree Ollison (30) and Darrin Hall (22) shake hands after Hall surprises Ollison with a game ball on Senior Day — a celebration of the seniors at their last home game — after the Panthers defeated the Hokies Saturday.

Seniors Qadree Ollison (30) and Darrin Hall (22) shake hands after Hall surprises Ollison with a game ball on Senior Day — a celebration of the seniors at their last home game — after the Panthers defeated the Hokies Saturday.

Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor

Seniors Qadree Ollison (30) and Darrin Hall (22) shake hands after Hall surprises Ollison with a game ball on Senior Day — a celebration of the seniors at their last home game — after the Panthers defeated the Hokies Saturday.

Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor

Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor

Seniors Qadree Ollison (30) and Darrin Hall (22) shake hands after Hall surprises Ollison with a game ball on Senior Day — a celebration of the seniors at their last home game — after the Panthers defeated the Hokies Saturday.

By Sami Abu-Obaid, Staff Writer

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With the 2018 NCAA Football season coming to an end, the Pittsburgh Panthers rallied from a 2-3 start to the season to put themselves in position to win the ACC Coastal Division. Through the ups and downs there has been one constant on the team —  the seniors.

This class of 19 players is the first group Pat Narduzzi has coached from first-years to seniors since he was hired in 2014. In the past four years, Narduzzi has tried to instill a dedicated, championship-caliber culture into the football program. Fortunately for him, the seniors bought into it and have set the tone for the underclassmen.

“That’s a great locker room,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve got some great kids, I just love the way they work every day in practice.”

The seniors share a strong bond, fighting to win every game for one another. According to senior wide receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes, their love for each other goes beyond position groups.

“I love those guys,” Araujo-Lopes said. “Not just the receiving room, the running backs, the defensive backs, I truly love this team and I’m going to miss them.”

The seniors made sure no one would forget their last game at Heinz Field when they made history in the Panthers win over Virginia Tech Saturday. Pitt recorded the most yards from scrimmage in program history and with help from the offensive line, senior running back Qadree Ollison ran 97 yards to put his name in the history books with the longest-scoring play from the line of scrimmage.

“That’s a great win, a great way to leave Heinz,” Ollison said. “A great way to leave our legacy on this place.”

Narduzzi will use these seniors as an example for how his players should act for years to come. Every single senior has bought into his philosophy and the results are showing this year. As the team heads into its final two games with a chance at an ACC Championship, there is hope for the future because of the example the seniors have set.

But they aren’t done just yet.

“We want to go to a bowl game, an ACC Championship,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Dewayne Hendrix said. “We want to do all that for the seniors.”

Meet the Seniors:

Offensive line

Pitt’s football squad finds strength in its offensive line. It is because of that Pitt is one of the nation’s top rushing colleges. Pitt’s offensive line features four seniors who have helped pave the way to setting program records for the second and third most rushing yards in a single game.

Mike Herndon, OL — Greenville, Virginia

In his four years with the Panthers, Herndon has played in 40 games for Pitt, at times as a two-way player. He notched his only sack against Georgia Tech in a 37-34 win in 2016.

Stefano Millin, OL — Massillon, Ohio

Before Millin arrived at Pitt, he started for Kent State where he played in 35 games. He transferred to Pitt as a graduate student in 2018 to use his last year of eligibility and help strengthen the Pittsburgh offensive line. Millin has played in all 10 games this season, working alongside his fellow seniors to create a strong group in the trenches.

Connor Dintino, OL — Mashpee, Massachusetts

During his career at Pitt, Dintino has played in 45 games, seeing time on the offensive line and the special teams unit. Dintino earned a larger role on the offensive line his sophomore year when he was listed as a reserve center. Now in his senior year, Dintino is an important piece to the offensive line that has proven its worth this season.

Alex Bookser, Captain, OL — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Bookser is the lineman with the most games played for Pitt with 46, while starting 24 games over his sophomore and junior year. Bookser has made the All-ACC Academic Football team his sophomore and junior year as well. Despite shoring up the offensive line, he made a field goal block in a 24-17 win against Duke in 2017.

Running Backs

Using the synergy of the offensive line to their advantage, Pitt’s senior running backs have effectively pounded the ball on the ground, ending their careers with a historic season, due in large part to hard work and determination.

Qadree Ollison, RB — Niagara Falls, New York

Running his way into the history books, Qadree Ollison is one of only six running backs in the history of Pitt Football to rush for 1,000 yards in multiple seasons. Appearing in 48 games, Ollison has rushed for 3,059 career yards and 31 touchdowns. Ollison owns the record for the longest scoring play from scrimmage through a 97-yard touchdown against Virginia Tech and will likely finish 10 on the all-time rushing leaderboard.    

Darrin Hall, RB — Youngstown, Ohio

Hall has played in 44 career games for the Panthers, accumulating 2,145 yards and 20 touchdowns. He earned the title of the Walter Camp Player of the Week for his performance against Virginia, rushing for 229 yards and three touchdowns.

George Aston, RB — Stephens City, Virginia

One of the reasons for Pitt’s successful ground game has been fullback George Aston. Originally a walk-on, Aston’s hard work earned him a scholarship and a key role in the run game. Playing in 37 games, Aston has 14 career touchdowns.

Cole Blake, RB — Crescent, Pennsylvania

After transfering from Robert Morris University, Blake played in two games this season, against Penn State and Albany. Including his time at Robert Morris, Blake has 1,238 total yards in his collegiate career.

Wide receivers

The senior wide receivers have shown that hard work pays off and nothing good comes easy. While they might not be the stars of the offense, they continuously show up to practice and put in just as much effort as the rest of the team.

Rafael Araujo-Lopes — Kissimmee, Florida

Araufo-Lopes started his collegiate career at a community college in California where he was named the California Community College Athletic Association All-American. After transferring to Pitt in 2015, Araujo-Lopes saw time as a wide receiver and as a member of the special teams unit. He earned All-ACC Academic Football Team in 2017.

Kellen McAlone, WR — Dallas, Texas

After walking-on to the football team as a first-year, McAlone played in 28 games for the Panthers as a member of the special teams unit. He earned a career tackle in 2017.

Defensive Line

The defensive line is in charge of keeping the other team’s running backs under control and together have managed to more than accomplish this goal.

Dewayne Hendrix, DL — O’Fallon, Illinois

A transfer from Tennessee in 2015, Hendrix started making his presence known his junior year. In 22 games, Hendrix has made 44 tackles — nine and a half for a loss — and seven sacks.  In the Panthers’ upsets against No. 2 Miami in 2017 and No. 23 Virginia in 2018, Hendrix displayed his big play ability when he recorded three and a half sacks, helping Pitt achieve victory.

James Folston Jr., DL — Cocoa, Florida

Folston Jr. has played in 39 games for the Panthers, helping establish the defensive front in his final two years at Pitt. He has made 41 tackles — three and a half for a loss — and one and a half sacks in his collegiate career so far. Folston Jr.’s most memorable play came in a blocked punt against Youngstown State in 2017.

Shane Roy, DL — Reading, Ohio

His sophomore year, Roy saw time as a defensive line reserve, then found his way into the starting line-up his junior and senior years. In 32 games, Roy has accumulated 40 tackles, five for a loss, and one and a half sacks. He also has swatted three passes at the line.

Linebackers

The linebacks are tasked with doing a little bit of everything for the Panthers. Luckily for Pitt, Wirginis and Zeise have stepped up to the challenge and their hard work has paid off.

Quintin Wirginis, Captain, LB — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Wirginis found time on the field from the beginning, playing on special teams and as a reserve linebacker his first year. Wirginis found his way into the starting lineup his senior year as a middle linebacker. Unfortunately, his senior season was cut short due to a knee injury, but he played in 44 career games, racking up 91 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and two blocked punts.

Elijah Zeise, LB — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

After playing in every game his first year as a reserve wide receiver and special teams member, Zeise made the transition to a defensive linebacker. In 37 games played (13 as a receiver/special teams), he had 90 tackles, seven and a half for a loss and forcing a fumble. Two of his four pass break-ups were instrumental to Pitt beating No. 2 Miami in 2017.

Defensive Backs

A lot of experience has helped the senior defensive backs work together to protect Pitt’s end zone this season and limit opposing teams when it comes to their passing game.

Phillipie Motley, DB — Columbus, Ohio

Motley has played in 36 games for the Panthers, notching 25 tackles, nine defended passes and one interception against Georgia Tech. Motley has seen playing time all four years, although he was limited his sophomore and junior year due to injuries.

Colin Jonov, DB — Murrysville, Pennsylvania

Jonov transferred to Pitt from Bucknell University his senior year, playing in seven games with two career tackles coming against Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Dennis Briggs, Captain, DB — Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania

Briggs is the true veteran of this team on offense and defense. Playing in 48 career games, Briggs has never missed a game as a Panther. He is very active on defense with 105 tackles, five and a half for a loss, four sacks and six defended passes. Helping the defense find the ball, Briggs has caused four turnovers, one interception and three forced fumbles.

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Pitt seniors will be remembered for consistency and leadership