Shayne Hale will admit that, so far, his Pitt career hasn't gone exactly as planned.
Ranked as a four-star linebacker by Rivals.com coming out of Gateway High School four years ago, Hale looked like a future anchor for the middle of the Panthers defense.
After redshirting his freshman year, Hale shifted to defensive end. He played in just seven games in 2009 and two in 2010. Last year, he appeared in one game, registering a single tackle.
It would be easy for a player in Hale's position to quietly fade away. Plenty of times, players like that simply get lost when a program goes through yet another coaching shuffle.
Hale made sure that didn't happen to him.
This spring, Hale, a redshirt senior, won Pitt's Ed Conway Award, given annually to one offensive and one defensive player who show the most improvement during spring practice.
"Coming into my senior year, I just told myself to throw it all out there," Hale said. "This is the last go-round. You've got to make things happen and just have fun doing it. Fly around every play and just make every day like it's your last."
After the impressive spring, Hale is in position to earn some serious playing time this fall, and could even start along the Panthers defensive line. He totaled three tackles in Pitt's Blue-Gold scrimmage April 14.
Coming into spring ball, Hale said he particularly wanted to improve how he used his hands on the line, but noted that he tried to work on something different every day at practice.
Hale also said he has really clicked with the new coaching staff, particularly defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable and defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield.
"These are guys I can't wait to play for. I'd go to the end of the road for these guys and I know they'd do the same for me," Hale said. "I just felt I owed them because they put in all the hours that they have watching film and breaking stuff down to teach us better and make us better players."
Hale, like all of the Panthers, has had to make some adjustments with the program making a coaching change for the second year in a row. Schematically, though, he said the system implemented by new head coach Paul Chryst is similar to the one he played in under former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt.
He specifically pointed to Chryst's philosophy of building a gameplan around players' skill sets, rather than trying to force players into a pre-determined system.
"It seemed like we were trying to do too much in the past, but now [the coaches] are making a defense off of their players," he said. "The schemes and everything are built around what we have."
Hale also said he finally feels comfortable at the defensive end position.
"My head was always at linebacker, and even at defensive end, I was thinking I was a linebacker," he said. "Now I feel I've bought in full at defensive lineman."
Hale has bought in as one of the team's leaders, as well. After the Blue-Gold game, Chryst said that was one reason Hale earned the Conway award.
"If we're going to be the best team we can be this year, we need great senior leadership," Chryst said.
Hale said he has noticed his teammates looking to him for advice and motivation. While he admitted he is "not a guy who gets all wild and rah-rah-rah," Hale said he has enjoyed taking a leadership role.
"I appreciate it," he said. "It just makes you feel good that these guys look up to you and look for your advice."
Given the trajectory of his career to date, it may have seemed unlikely that Hale would be in a position to be dispensing advice. But here he is, a senior with one last chance, ready to make the most of it.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SWernerPG First Published May 3, 2012 12:00 AM