When Manasseh Garner decided to transfer from Wisconsin last summer, he weighed several options. He had some other Division I-A schools in mind and toyed with the idea of dropping down a level so he could play right away.
Ultimately, though, it was hard to ignore all the signs pushing him toward Pitt. The former Brashear High School star could come home, be closer to his family and play for a mostly familiar coaching staff.
"I got some encouragement from my family and peers," Garner said. "It would be a great opportunity to come back to my hometown team."
It actually took a last-minute pitch from the coach he was leaving, then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, to make the final push for the Panthers. Most of Pitt's staff had coached under Bielema with the Badgers.
After trying to talk Garner into staying with the Badgers, Bielema realized the young man needed to move on and that Pitt was the best fit.
"Coach B, thank God for him," Garner said. "He did talk to me, and we had a real heart-to-heart conversation and he did tell me it would be a great opportunity to go to the University of Pittsburgh.
"You've got a great relationship with the coaches."
Garner's role likely will be as a tight end/wide receiver hybrid, similar to the role junior Drew Carswell has played for the Panthers.
Garner, who had to sit out last season because of the transfer, can line up next to the tackle and block, but also can flex wide and create mismatches against defensive backs.
"I think he's a pretty good football player," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said.
"I think it's our job to find a spot for him and then his job to be able to perform at that spot consistently, at a good level."
Finding Garner's niche in the offense shouldn't be a problem for a coaching staff already well-acquainted with his skills.
Chryst served as the offensive coordinator during Garner's two seasons at Wisconsin, and Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph was Garner's position coach.
"It's a blessing," Garner said of the familiarity. "The coaches know me; they know what I can bring to the table. At the same time, I'm still out here competing with everybody else. I feel like there's no favoritism in terms of them giving me a spot."
As Garner works to earn that spot on the field, he has plenty of familiar faces on the practice field around him.
Coming to Pitt meant being reunited with other former local high school players, including Garner's old Brashear teammate, receiver Ed Tinker.
Garner won City League titles his sophomore and junior years at Brashear, and now he's ready to bring his hometown some success in the collegiate ranks.
"Me and [Ed], just like high school days, we're having fun," Garner said. "We're able to go out here and represent for our city and our high school.
"City League players, I feel like we've got a lot to prove. We're representing for our city."mobilehome - pittsports
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.