Football: In only fifth year of organized football, Romeus finding success

By Randy Lieberman

After exploding from a 3-point stance, all it took was one fake to the inside. He had… After exploding from a 3-point stance, all it took was one fake to the inside. He had him.

Pitt defensive end Greg Romeus extended his long arms into Notre Dame left tackle Paul Duncan’s chest, fought through Duncan’s desperate block and dove for quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

As Clausen went to throw the ball, Romeus chopped it from his hands with Pitt leading Notre Dame 27-22 with two minutes, 10 seconds left in the game.

The ball wobbled free and was initially ruled an incomplete pass.

It wasn’t just a great play — it was timely.

After referees ruled the incompletion a fumble, Pitt took over the ball and ran out the clock, ending any comeback hopes for the Irish.

Pitt won 27-22, keeping its BCS bowl hopes alive. Romeus was a hero.

Along with the forced fumble, Romeus batted down a pass, made one tackle for a loss and blocked an Irish extra point, the latter of which forced Notre Dame to attempt — and fail — a two-point conversion late in the game.

That’s impressive for somebody in his fifth year of playing organized football. It isn’t Romeus’ fifth year at Pitt — it’s his fifth year actually playing football.

In 2005, in his hometown of Coral Springs, Fla., Romeus faced a decision his senior year.

In high school, Romeus was a premier basketball recruit prior to his senior year of high school. That was before he moved to a newly built Coral Glades High School, which was starting a football program.

“I was playing basketball, and the football coach needed guys to come out to the team,” Romeus said. “He just asked me to come out, and I ended up coming out.”

After playing six games, he made his decision.

“I didn’t even play basketball my senior year,” Romeus said.

But he didn’t know he would try playing Division I football until December of that year. It was then that Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt recruited Romeus without much of a fight.

Now, if coaches knew what he’d become, other big programs in Florida might have pursued Romeus to play football for them.

He has become a starting defensive end on one of the nation’s best defenses.

“He goes up there every day and does all the right things on and off the field,” Wannstedt said. “When you reflect back to when he first showed up here — a skinny, 6-foot-5, 220-pound basketball player who played football for one year — and now you see him developing into one of the better defensive ends in the country.”

Wannstedt also said Romeus could soon find himself in the NFL.

“I don’t know when, but we’ll cross that bridge when we sit down at the end of the year and have a discussion together,” he said.

Romeus leads a Pitt defense that leads the nation with 41 sacks through 10 games. Romeus has 7.5 of those sacks, matching his season total from last year.

It’s a defensive line that will play a key role in Pitt’s next matchup against West Virginia Friday.

“Every guy on our defensive line has something different about them they bring to the game,” Romeus said. “Mick [Williams] is such a powerful guy. He’s probably the strongest guy on our team. Jabaal [Sheard] is a speed guy. Gus [Mustakus] has a combination of both. They’ve taught me a lot.”

With so much power on Pitt’s defensive line, opponents have taken notice.

“They play really good. They’re very stout and good players,” West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said. “Their size, explosiveness — they’re old guys with two juniors and two seniors. The inside guys are tough. I think both ends are big, strong guys.”

But Romeus said he still needs to learn more about playing defensive end, and only more playing time can help.

“I’m still learning so much about the mental aspect and being able to read offenses,” he said. “Athletic ability can take over certain things, but the mental aspect is the thing I try to work on the most.”

Fortunately, he’s had some talented tackles during training camps and practices over the years to hone his skills.

“I would go against Jeff Otah when he was here. It was definitely a good experience,” Romeus said. “He’s such a big, athletic guy. He showed me how to use my speed advantage on guys and use power. When I see him now, he’ll give me advice on things that he sees, just things that can make my game better.”

The advice has started working for Romeus, as evidenced by the Notre Dame game.

From the hardwood, to the hard knocks on other quarterbacks, Romeus has learned through experience how to play football.

“God blessed me and gave me the opportunity to come to Pittsburgh,” Romeus said. “I came here, and I remember the first drill I did. I couldn’t even get in a 3-point stance, but [the] coach never got frustrated with me, and he always helped me with stuff.”