The time is now for Chris Jacobson, and he knows it. College football players only get so many chances before they are bypassed for the next big recruiting star coming through the ranks.
Jacobson was one of those big recruiting stars once upon a time. Three years ago, he was a can't-miss prospect from Keystone Oaks High School. He played in the Army All-American Game, had five stars next to his name on all of the recruiting websites and was billed as one of the top high school offensive linemen in the country.
Now, after three years filled with injuries and unsuccessful bids to earn starting jobs, Jacobson is -- finally -- 100 percent healthy and bent on seizing a starting job on Pitt's offensive line.
"I'm coming out here every day with a purpose to get better," said Jacobson, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound redshirt junior. "This is my fourth year, and it is my time. I've worked my butt off in the weight room with Buddy Morris. It's time to put my foot down and really be coachable, be physical and just hit people."
Jacobson could always do the latter. From a physical standpoint, he was ready to play when he was a true freshman, but not having a full grasp of the mental aspects of the game is what prevented him from earning the starting left guard position this past fall.
Jacobson competed with senior Joe Thomas throughout camp, but the coaches decided to start Thomas because he did not make as many mental errors.
"It was just stupid mistakes that shouldn't have been made that you want to kick yourself in the butt for," Jacobson said. "It was never the physical part. It was just some of the mental parts.
"But now the mental part is clicking. Now I look at some of the mistakes I made, and it's like, 'That's so easy. It all falls in like a puzzle.' "
Jacobson will fill one of three vacated spots on the offensive line in the fall. The Panthers also are looking for a new center and a new right guard.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt is hoping Jacobson can help anchor the retooled offensive line in the fall along with returning tackles Jason Pinkston and Lucas Nix.
"He's had a very good offseason," Wannstedt said. "When we came out of fall camp last year, we felt like Chris, from a physical standpoint, was there and ready to go, but Joe Thomas had been a four-year starter, and we came to the conclusion that both would play.
"We just thought Joe with his experience gave us a little better option at that time. And Joe stayed healthy for the most part. Chris' time is now. He knows it, and he's off to a good start."
Jacobson impressed the coaches Dec. 26 when he had to step in for an injured Thomas and start against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. It was a gratifying experience for Jacobson, who had to battle back from a dislocated knee that prevented him from playing as a freshman and kept him hobbled in his second season.
"That was a great experience for me," Jacobson said. "It was exciting. I got to play with [center] Rob Houser and John [Malecki]. I got to get one game in with them before they left. It was a good experience.
"North Carolina had two draft prospects, and we all did great against them. At first, I was nervous, but I knew the coaches trusted me and that I could go out there and play."
Pitt is set with Jacobson, Pinkston and Nix as starters, but Wannstedt still needs to name starters at center and right guard.
Fifth-year senior walk-on Alex Karabin and redshirt freshman Jack Lippert are competing at center, and Greg Gaskins and Ryan Turnley are competing at right guard.
"We have guys competing, but we're going to have to make some decision in the pretty near future," he said.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.