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Pitt Football Notebook: Week One

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Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi now has 12 pledges lined up in his 2017 recruiting class. Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi now has 12 pledges lined up in his 2017 recruiting class. Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi now has 12 pledges lined up in his 2017 recruiting class. Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

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In preparation for his head coaching debut Saturday against Youngstown State University, Pat Narduzzi held his first weekly press conference on Monday afternoon. Here are some crucial tidbits and takeaways from what the new head coach shared with the media.

O Captains! My Captains!

Narduzzi elaborated on a couple of lingering injuries ailing key Panthers heading into week one, particularly  team captains redshirt senior center Artie Rowell and senior defensive tackle Darryl Render.

The Panthers have strong depth at both center and defensive tackle to fill in for Rowell and Render. Sophomore Alex Officer would likely slide in at center, while senior Khaynin Mosley-Smith will fill in for Render on the defensive line.

Rowell is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last September against Boston College.

“I feel like Artie is going to be ready. We’ll see,” Narduzzi said. “He came out and started with a bang early. I thought, ‘Holy cow,’ I thought he was going to be rusty, him and [Mark] Scarpinato. Neither one of them were. So we know that already. We’re just going to be careful with him.”

As for Render, who suffered an elbow injury during camp, Narduzzi was even more optimistic.

“He got a lift in yesterday and he’ll be dressed [on Saturday],” Narduzzi said. “I can guarantee that. There’s a good chance that he plays too.”

Aston, Scarpinato earn scholarships

As part of his opening statement, Narduzzi announced that he awarded two walk-ons with scholarships: redshirt freshman fullback George Aston and graduate transfer defensive tackle Mark Scarpinato.

Aston is a six-foot, 240-pound bruiser back out of Stephens City, Virginia, and earned his scholarship with the work he put in during spring and summer camps.

“We almost gave him one at the end of spring, but I said, ‘Let’s wait until the fall’,” Narduzzi said. “He will play a lot of football for us, not only offense but also special teams. He’s done a great job for us, and he’s tough. He is what Pittsburgh football is all about.”

Scarpinato played one season of college football at Michigan State University in 2013, but retired to pursue a medical degree. Upon transferring to Pitt and putting his medical aspirations on hold, Scarpinato walked on to the Pitt football team as a graduate senior, reuniting with Narduzzi, his former defensive coordinator at Michigan State and giving football one last run.

“I wanted to make sure he earned it, and he spent a year away from the game, which might have been a risk. But it has been no risk at all,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to get some great football out of Mark and we’re happy he is on this football team. He will definitely contribute.”

Float like a butterfly

While most view anxiety for crucial sports contests as a weakness, Pitt’s first year head coach is embracing the uneasiness.

The Saturday matchup against Youngstown State will mark Narduzzi’s first game manning the sidelines as a head coach, and the Youngstown, Ohio native admitted that he has some butterflies.

“No question about it [I’m nervous],” Narduzzi said. “As an eight-year defensive coordinator at Michigan State, I was nervous before every game. I think every player goes in nervous. I think every coach goes in nervous.”

Narduzzi won’t be alone in his anxiety and said he expects his team to share the jitters.

“You only get 12 [games]. They don’t give them back to you, so you’re nervous,” he said. “I think if you’re not nervous, you’re probably not ready to play. If our kids aren’t nervous on Friday night and Saturday morning, they probably aren’t ready to play.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Heinz Field, as the Panthers take on the Youngstown State Penguins.

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Pitt Football Notebook: Week One