Pitt''s Darryl Render and Tyrone Ezell take down Gardner-Webb''s Kenny Little in the third quarter Saturday at Heinz Field.
By Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With a little more than two minutes to go in the first half of Pitt's 55-10 win Saturday, Gardner-Webb quarterback Lucas Beatty rolled out and tried to find a receiver open down the field. Right after he released the ball, freshman defensive tackle Darryl Render -- all 6 feet 2, 277 pounds of him -- jumped up and got both hands on the pass.
Render knocked the ball down, bobbled the carom and took one last stab at the interception before the ball fell to the turf.
"We talked about getting a pick. I said I was going to catch it, take it to the house," said Render, who added that he has never recorded an interception.
"I'm going to hear it all week. I already know. Guys wanting to put me on the Jugs machine."
Even though Render ended the game Saturday still looking for that first career interception, the rookie made an impression in his first collegiate start.
Filling in for the injured Aaron Donald, Render had three tackles, 1.5 for a loss.
"You appreciate it," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "Happy for him to get a start. We're going to need everyone."
Donald, a second-team all-Big East selection last year, spent the week dealing with a knee injury, giving Render his chance to shine. The freshman had played in Pitt's first three games, but only in limited duty.
Render said that earlier this week, he got a text from Donald reminding him of his duties this week.
"He was just telling me to stay in the film room, be ready to go, make plays," Render said.
Just a few months removed from high school, Render had to toe the fine line of filling Donald's shoes but not trying to do too much in replacing the linchpin of Pitt's defense.
"I just always had to play within myself," Render said. "I try to mimic things [Donald] does. I wanted to come in and just not miss a beat with AD out."
From the looks of things Saturday, it was Render who didn't miss a beat jumping into college football from the high school ranks.
He said Pitt coaches told him during his recruitment that he would play as a freshman, but getting a start just four games into his career was a bit beyond his expectations.
Plus, early in training camp he faced the additional challenge of moving from defensive end to defensive tackle.
Yet here he is, a few months and almost 30 pounds later (Render said he came into camp around 250 pounds, and is now at 277).
Like most freshmen, he said the biggest difference was the speed of the game and the size of his opponents.
"I'm used to just being the top dog and bullying everyone around, but now I've got to work a little harder," he said.
That hard work should pay off for Pitt the rest of the season. All indications are that Donald will return following the open date this week in time for Pitt's next game Oct. 5 against Syracuse, but Render still likely will play a role off the bench. Pitt's defensive line depth was a concern coming into the season, and Render being able to play important minutes would go a long way in shoring up that unit.
"There's a guy I think could make great use of the bye week," Chryst said.
That work probably won't include much time on the Jugs machine. So far, that one pass from Beatty seems to be the outlier. Render has been able to handle pretty much everything else thrown his way.