Pitt's incoming freshmen run workouts for kids at Mel Blount Youth Home

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On a warm Friday afternoon, football players in Pitt's incoming freshman class were going through blocking drills, crawling under wooden logs and running up and down hills.

No, this wasn't some new addition to summer workouts put in place by Panthers coach Paul Chryst. The players were actually the coaches Friday, leading children at Mel Blount Youth Home through football drills and other outdoor activities in Claysville, Washington County.

The trip has become an annual tradition for the newest Panthers, giving a lift to the boys living at the home. The home, opened in 1989, provides a shelter for boys who are victims of child abuse or neglect.

"It's awesome that we have a chance to come up here and spend time with these kids," tight end Scott Orndoff. "We're pretty blessed with the life that we have. To see these kids coming out here, having a good time, enjoying themselves, you can't beat it."

Blount, a Pro Football Hall of Famer for the Steelers, introduced the Pitt players to the children by using the team as an example of a group of people coming together from disparate locations (very far, in the case of defensive tackle and Hawaii native Jeremiah Taleni) to unite for a common goal.

"It's what you make of your situation," Blount told reporters after his welcome speech. "We have kids here whose parents are drug addicts, but you can't use that as an excuse. You can learn from that and you can be a better person because of it. A lot of times, it can inspire you not to be like that, to go ahead and excel so you don't have to live that kind of life."

Blount uses motivational tactics to help the children at the home. A month ago, the Steelers' 2013 draft picks visited the youth home. Friday, it was the Panthers freshmen dividing up and playing football with the boys, ages 7 to 17. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd even helped show them some new dance moves.

"I felt like some of the kids were down a little bit," he said. "We had to get hype, bring them up. With the breakdown dances, it just boosted the whole energy and atmosphere. [We're] having fun with these kids and they're pumped up about it as well."

The day gave the players a chance to bond as well. The freshmen have been on campus taking classes for more than a month, but won't have their first official practice until August 6.

They've spent the summer lifting weights, going to class and getting acclimated to the college experience. Orndoff and Boyd said that class unity hasn't been a problem with this group, as they regularly gather in their dorms or lounges to play video games or just hang out.

"We always stick together," Boyd said. "If we stay together, we could probably win a lot of games. That's what coach Chryst, [wide receivers] coach Bobby Engram were telling us the whole time. Stay together as a family."

Orndoff arrived in January and participated in spring practices. He admitted he's still a freshman in many ways but has been able to give some advice to his new classmates.

"My biggest piece of advice was 'Go to class. Don't leave early, don't show up late,' " he said. "The coaches don't like seeing that and the teachers don't like it either."

The freshmen have three more weeks before they have to balance full-time football practice with their class schedule, but they're excited for the challenge. This group of freshmen represents the first that Chryst was entirely responsible for bringing into Pitt (he inherited his first class from former coach Todd Graham), a fact that is not lost on Orndoff.

"This is coach Chryst's first true class," he said. "We have to realize that we're representing him as a coach. We have some pretty stellar players in our class. If we work hard enough, we can do big things in a couple of years."

NOTE -- Pitt picked up its 15th verbal commitment for 2014 when athlete Marcus Collins of Madison, Wis., gave his pledge to Chryst. Collins is rated as a two-star by Rivals.com and chose the Panthers over offers from Air Force, Army and Western Michigan. ... Former Shady Side Academy star Reggie Mitchell joined Pitt as a transfer from Wisconsin. Mitchell will play safety for the Panthers but must sit out the 2013 season, per NCAA transfer regulations.

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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