A few months after arriving on the Pitt campus as a freshman, wide receiver Devin Street was hard at work.
He was walking up and down hallways in University of Pittsburgh's Sutherland Hall, trying to collect signatures for his campaign to be dorm president.
After gathering the requisite endorsements and making a presentation to the resident assistants, Street won the position. He led a committee that helped to organize game nights and ice cream socials designed to help incoming freshmen make the transition to college.
"I just wanted to kind of meet everyone and get my hands in everything," Street said.
Fast forward four years: Pitt opens its second training camp under coach Paul Chryst Tuesday. The Panthers have unanswered questions about virtually every offensive position but one: Street will be their No. 1 wide receiver.
Street also hopes he will occupy a much more significant role this year, that of emotional leader.
The qualities that make a football player a "leader" can be difficult to define, but, when a team has a strong one, it's unquestionably evident.
Four years after leading his freshmen classmates, Street will be looking to shepherd his teammates into a new era of Pitt football in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Street isn't shy to admit that, over his four years at Pitt, he has not seen the type of leadership he thought was necessary for a successful team. Sure, there were players that he personally respected and looked up to, but no one who accepted accountability for the team.
It didn't help that three coaching changes in a span of two years led to players in the locker room recruited by three different coaches. It rarely bubbled to the surface, but Street confessed that divisions were sometimes there.
"I think last year we did have some of that with older guys," Street said. "It was hard to trust what the coaches were going to be like, everything like that."
Last season, Street started to pursue more of a leadership role. Teammates noticed, and Street's production on the field even began to tick upward.
He had a career-high 11 catches against Louisville and set another career mark with 140 receiving yards against Temple two weeks later.
"He took a leadership role for us a little bit toward the end of the year and became a little more vocal," said former Pitt center Ryan Turnley, a senior last year.
It felt like everything was coming into place. Street felt comfortable in school and, most important, had a strong relationship with the coaching staff, particularly wide receivers coach Bobby Engram.
Street remembers his father pointing out the former Penn State star and Biletnikoff Award winner in the NFL when the two were watching a Seattle Seahawks game on TV when Street was younger.
"I've seen him on the field, and it's weird that now he's in Pittsburgh coaching me," Street said.
"He knows it all. I can sit down and talk to him about life; he has just the greatest advice. I can sit down and talk to him about football. He's made me a 10 times better player."
The season ended with a disappointing loss to Mississippi in the BBVA Compass Bowl, and Street entered the offseason determined to be the player that pushed his teammates -- and himself -- harder in the offseason.
"I kind of took that upon myself just because I've been here, going on my fifth year, I've seen a lot of things," Street said. "Coaches in and out, players in and out. I've seen a lot of things. I've seen how not to respond to things, and I've seen how to respond to things. I've learned from all of it."
Of course, being a better player is only half the battle. The second part is making your teammates better. Or, more accurately, making your teammates want to be better.
That's why Street was standing in a circle of huddled Panthers toward the end of one of Pitt's first spring practices.
The coaches were making players run wind sprints after practice, and, if any player jumped offside, the whole team had to do it again. After a half-dozen or so failed attempts, Street gathered his teammates and implored them to focus on the sprints. It took a few more tries, but the Panthers eventually got it right.
Pitt did not have to deal with the uncertainty of a coaching change this spring, but that did not mean there wasn't some turnover. Six players -- most notably star running back Rushel Shell -- transferred out of the program.
Street didn't like seeing his teammates transfer and tried to help them get back on track to stay and be successful at Pitt. He also noted, though, that the theory of addition by subtraction has some merit concerning players who have not bought in totally to Chryst's system and philosophy.
"You don't just write a teammate off at all," Street said. "You care about those guys in the locker room and, if a guy's struggling, that's when you kind of bring him aside and try to bring him along. Everyone has to be on the same page because you have to trust everyone on that field.
"Now we have a great group of guys in here. Some guys left who didn't want to be here. I think we have the right guys here right now."
Street has embraced fully Chryst's goal of having the players spend more time together this offseason. Whether it's cookouts at the coach's house or just playing table tennis and dominoes in the locker room, Street has noticed a different feeling this offseason.
"We're coming over here and working everyday, but, at the same time, we're bonding, getting that much closer," he said. "So, when we get on the field, we have each other's backs and we're all in sync, playing together."
Sometimes, Street will catch himself picturing Pitt's opener against Florida State. The pregame, the atmosphere, the way the game will unfold.
He knows that, if he truly wants to take on the role he has worked toward this offseason, he could be put to the test right away.
"We might kick off, they might take it back [for a touchdown,]" Street said. "We can't get dejected. We have to strike adversity in the face. That's when leaders step up and get the whole team going."
He knows the Panthers will face an increased challenge in the ACC this season, and many outside the program are skeptical of how Pitt will fare in the new conference (media picked the Panthers to finish fifth in their division recently at ACC media days). That isn't making Street readjust his goals, though, for himself or the team.
Heading into his final collegiate season, Street has a chance to make his mark in the Pitt record books. He is 1,014 yards shy of Antonio Bryant's school record for most career receiving yards and 27 catches away from Latef Grim's mark.
"To be up there in that category, it's pretty humbling," Street said. "I definitely want to accomplish that. But if I came up one catch shy, 1 yard shy, one touchdown shy, if we won an ACC championship, I'd be the happiest player ever."
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published August 3, 2013 4:00 AM