Ford Field: Home of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. “It’s pretty sweet,” said Pitt quarterback Tom Savage.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
DETROIT -- A few weeks ago, before one of Pitt's early bowl practices, Panther receiver Dontez Ford was sitting in the locker room getting ready for another session on the scout team.
That's when Ford, who sat out this season after transferring from Syracuse, got a surprise from coach Paul Chryst.
"Coach just walked up to me in the locker room one day and was like, 'Are you ready?' " Ford said. "I'm just sitting there like, 'What do you mean? Ready for practice?' And he said, 'No, you're going to have to suit up this game.' "
Ford will be eligible to play Thursday in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl because he transferred to Pitt in January as opposed to over the summer. NCAA rules stipulate that a player must be enrolled at a new institution for two full semesters before competing. Ford was at Pitt for the entire spring semester, so once Pitt's fall semester wrapped up a few weeks ago, he became able to suit up.
Because he already redshirted for his freshman season at Syracuse, this year would have counted against his four of eligibility anyway.
"We just kind of went through the information, making sure we'd be telling him the right thing," Chryst said. "We knew pretty early in the prep, so he's had a good stretch here to be able to know he was going to be playing."
It's nearly certain that Ford, a Sto-Rox High School graduate, will play on special teams Thursday, but could also see his number called on offense as well. He said the past few weeks were a flurry of learning formations and route assignments.
"I pretty much had to play catchup on everything," he said. "I've been on the scout team the entire year. I just had to learn all the plays, the different personnel groups, where I'm going to fit in on the offense. The first week was pretty tough and then eventually it just became a matter of learning concepts."
And, if he does end up making a big catch against Bowling Green, don't worry, Ford already has run through that scenario in his head plenty of times.
"It never leaves my mind," he said, with a smile. "I always think about [it]. I'll catch myself daydreaming, thinking about making a big play or something. That's what I want to do, just contribute."
Well, they are kids
After a team bowling excursion Monday night, Pitt practiced at Ford Field for the first time Tuesday morning.
Even though the Panthers play their home games at Heinz Field, quarterback Tom Savage said the thrill of playing in an NFL venue hasn't worn off.
"It's pretty sweet," he said. "It's a cool stadium. I know we're all excited to be out here and get it going.
"I think we're focused right now on what we're trying to do on Bowling Green. It's a whole new environment. We're still kids at the end of the day; we're still excited to play in an NFL stadium, but we've just got to stay level-headed."
Talk about motivation
One of the wild cards in bowl preparation often is a team's motivation. If one team wants to be there and the other doesn't, that could be the spark that fuels an upset win.
Chryst said Tuesday that he liked his team's focus, but that it's tough to truly tell until game day.
"The bowl game's an opportunity to extend your season, so, if you've got a team that likes each other and enjoys playing with each other, they take advantage of that opportunity to extend it," he said.
"I feel good about it, but we've got to go do it and show that on Thursday."
Mum's the word
As usual, Chryst didn't reveal anything when asked which injured players might be close to playing Thursday. The biggest question is receiver Devin Street, Pitt's all-time leading pass catcher.
Street missed most of the last two games of the regular season with various injuries and did not practice Tuesday morning.
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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