Will Shady stay at Pitt in ’09?

By Zack Chakan

I’m horrified of LeSean McCoy right now. No, he didn’t buy a Jigsaw mask for Halloween or… I’m horrified of LeSean McCoy right now. No, he didn’t buy a Jigsaw mask for Halloween or appear in that creepy DirecTV commercial with the dead girl from ‘Poltergeist.’ Something far scarier. McCoy’s looking good. Like, Big East Offensive Player of the Year good. Or Heisman Trophy good, had he gotten off to a better start. Pitt’s super sophomore running back enters tomorrow’s game against Rutgers with 689 yards and 10 touchdowns through six contests. In the last three, he’s accumulated 447 yards on only 74 carries, nearly six yards per rush. McCoy is on pace for 1,378 yards for 2008, an improvement over last year, and 20 touchdowns. If his torrid stretch continues, he could top 1,500 yards. So, what’s so bad about that? I’m worried McCoy will disappear ‘mdash; to the NFL Draft, that is. McCoy has legitimate professional athleticism, skill and instincts. He combines fantastic speed with pure toughness in the trenches, and of course, those patented fake-the-defender-out-of-his-sneakers moves. As Pitt continues its unexpected ascension to the peak of the Big East, McCoy’s draft stock climbs right beside it. And if McCoy leads the Panthers to a conference title and a BCS berth, scouts and fans alike will see his rare talent on the national stage. Imagine this scenario: McCoy rushes for more than 1,000 yards as Pitt wins its final six games, including a decisive victory over West Virginia in the team’s home finale. He notches 10 more touchdowns to give him an incredible 1,700 yards and 20 scores on the year. Then McCoy torches Virginia Tech in a BCS bowl for 165 yards and three touchdowns. Pitt finishes 12-1, and students flip over a car outside the Cathedral. Guess what? He’s draft-eligible in 2009. And a sure-fire first-round selection ‘mdash; regardless of Pitt’s record. Although college sophomores aren’t usually permitted to enter the NFL Draft, Pitt fans know all too well the lone example of when they can. That rule wrested away the best player to don a Panther uniform in the past two decades after only two seasons at Pitt: Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2003, behind Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. That season, as a sophomore, Fitzgerald caught 92 passes for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns. How he lost that award is still baffling. Pitt fans were gearing up to see at least one more year of Fitzgerald in blue and gold until he declared for the NFL Draft. Just like that, Fitzgerald was picked third by the Arizona Cardinals. You see, Fitzgerald was a sophomore, but it was his third year away from high school. He spent one year at Valley Forge Military Academy, a prep school. This allowed Fitzgerald the ability to become a pro, as NFL rules state that any player drafted must be three years removed from high school. McCoy fits the same standards. He spent 2006 at Milford Academy before coming to Pitt. Currently, Scouts Inc. rates McCoy as the 25th best prospect for next year’s draft. That’s third out of all running backs. If he continues to tear apart Big East defenses, he surely will rise. McCoy will have a decision to make. Should he stay, or should he go? The Panthers will be in some trouble if he turns pro. LaRod Stephens-Howling will be gone as well. That would leave Shariff Harris, Kevin Collier, Chris Burns and a possible freshman to inherit the rushing load in 2009. There’s not a lot of experience in that group. Unless one breaks out in a big way, Pitt will need to rely on Bill Stull or Jonathan Baldwin for offensive fireworks next year. Of course, none of this makes a difference now. And it’s not like McCoy says he’ll go. Right now, he seems focused on the season. He seems focused on the team. McCoy needs to be at the top of his game for Pitt to be successful and churn out victories. Anything less, and the Panthers could easily slip in their quest for the conference title. Pitt has no choice but to go all out to win this season, as evidenced by coach Dave Wannstedt’s questionable decision to break Pat Bostick’s redshirt against Navy. Unfortunately, Pitt’s and McCoy’s triumphs could come back to bite the program later. McCoy could very easily choose to come back and help Pitt to the top in 2009. But one thing’s for sure: The NFL will have more to offer Shady than just candy.