Pitt seniors represent end of tumultuous era

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- After the BBVA Compass Bowl Saturday, Pitt's seniors were asked to sum up their five years with the Panthers.

Several minutes removed from the 38-17 loss to Mississippi that ended their careers, it wasn't an easy question. After all, how does one sum up five years of ecstasy, heartbreak and devotion -- all wrapped in three years of coaching turmoil -- in a few sentences.

The most common theme, though, came back to the man seated immediately to their left -- Panthers coach Paul Chryst, who was wrapping up his first season at Pitt as the seniors concluded their swan song.

"This senior year, with all the stuff we've been through before, it was that much more special thanks to coach Chryst and his coaching staff," senior receiver Mike Shanahan said.

The loss to the Rebels, especially playing in the same bowl the third year in a row, was not the ideal conclusion these seniors envisioned five years ago, or even at the beginning of the season. But they wouldn't let it override five years of memories and bonds forged.

"I had a great time at Pitt and my five years just ended a couple of minutes ago," senior center Ryan Turnley said. "I've enjoyed it. I'm not going to look back on it and say, 'I wish I would've done this.' I came out for five years and did everything I could."

Much of this senior class committed five years ago fresh off Pitt's famous 13-9 victory against No. 2 West Virginia, regarded as one of the most significant wins in program history. Back then, hopes were high they could build on that momentum and become annual BCS contenders.

Well, it didn't exactly turn out that way. The team lost games, coaches were hired and fired -- sometimes in a span of weeks -- and it took a toll on the class. Facing constant criticism for a lack of results on the field, quarterback Tino Sunseri admitted it was difficult sometimes not to speak out on what people were saying about him and his team.

"There's always some things you wish you could say, but you have to be professional," Sunseri said. "You have to understand that things are going to happen, sometimes people are going to say some things that you don't agree with, but that's their opinion.

"I just thank God that I have the mom that I have so I can call and vent to her instead of everybody else."

Like his teammates, though, Sunseri relished the five year ride and said he hoped his teammates would leave a legacy of hard work and dedication for the Panthers to build upon as the Paul Chryst era moves forward.

In fact, Sunseri said he saw a parallel between former coach Dave Wannstedt, who recruited this class and coached the players for their first three seasons, and Chryst.

"We wanted to start with a guy like coach Wannstedt, we believed in coach Wannstedt," Sunseri said.

"For us to finish with a guy like coach Chryst, we feel like he's the Dave Wannstedt kind of guy. Coach Chryst obviously is his own person and he brings different attributes to the table, but he's one of those guys that loves this university, loves the players."

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


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