Since the members of Pitt's 2013 recruiting class signed their letters of intent in February, it was expected that one Clairton freshman would be on the field for the Panthers' season opener.
Now, it might be two or three.
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd has all but sewn up a starting job, but his high school teammates, Titus Howard and Terrish Webb, have made a strong push toward seeing playing time in the secondary this season.
"I give them credit," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "They've come in, they've got a great work ethic to them, obviously talented enough to earn those, but the moments aren't getting too big for them."
Both seemed likely heading for redshirt seasons as training camp opened, but they have made enough plays and steadily have risen up the depth chart over the past three weeks. Tuesday, each had an interception in team drills.
Howard has even moved up to working with the first team at cornerback in nickel situations over the past few practices.
"I wasn't really expecting to be running with the ones this early, but they've got me in there with the ones and I'm actually doing a pretty good job, I'm guessing," he said. "So hopefully I keep it up.
"My confidence level is through the roof right now. I feel like I had a great camp."
Chryst has stayed mum when asked what freshmen he expects to play this year. But Howard said the coaches have prepared him as if he will be on the field in the opener Sept. 2 against Florida State.
"They've been hinting it to me that I'm going to play a lot this year, telling me to stay ready and stay in my [play]book," he said. "I've been making sure I study my book every night, make sure I study my plays, make sure I'm ready."
Webb is less of a sure thing to see the field in 2013, but still has a good shot at playing time. He has moved up to practicing with the second team at safety, and said he's ready if called upon.
"I played receiver in high school, but I'm a pretty smart dude," Webb said. "So once I got the concept -- and [defensive coordinator Matt] House made me get the concept -- it was pretty easy to get it."
One factor that has helped Webb and Howard adjust to the college level is having plenty of familiar faces on the practice field. In addition to Boyd, cornerback Trenton Coles and wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon are also Clairton graduates.
"When you come down after the midway in camp, they keep you up," Webb said. "The midway, it's like, 'Dang, I've still got so many more days to go.'
"But we push each other to keep going and going harder."
Webb also said he has enjoyed playing on the other side of the ball from Boyd for the first time in training camp.
"It felt good going against Tyler because we've been on the same side for so many years," he said. "It felt good to be able to hit him and play D on him."
While most Pitt freshmen will be subject to a new experience when the Panthers run out of the tunnel Sept. 2 at Heinz Field, three Clairton players already know the experience. As part of the school's remarkable 63-game winning streak, Boyd, Howard and Webb won four consecutive WPIAL titles at Heinz Field in their high school careers.
"It's going to be different because the atmosphere will have way more people, but I'm pretty used to playing at Heinz," Webb said. "It's like our second home."mobilehome - pittsports
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published August 23, 2013 4:00 AM