Pitt seniors bid farewell to Heinz Field


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When he was a redshirt freshman, Pitt safety Jason Hendricks decided he wanted to make his commitment to his school a little more permanent.

So, he went to a local tattoo parlor and got the letters "P-I-T-T" inscribed in ink along his right biceps.

"It was just something I was thinking about," Hendricks said. "I felt like this is the place for me. I felt like this is home, this is something I always wanted to remember and cherish."

Now a senior, Hendricks will represent his school at Heinz Field for the final time today when the Panthers take on Miami in Pitt's regular-season finale.

For 18 seniors, today will be the last time they run out of the tunnel at their home stadium. The Panthers clinched bowl eligibility against Syracuse last week, so the Panthers will get at least one more game. Today, though, is the final time these seniors will play in front of their home crowd.

Scouting report
 
Matchup: Pitt (6-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. Miami (8-3, 4-3), 3:30 p.m. today, Heinz Field.

TV, Radio: WTAE, KDKA-FM (93.7).

Pitt: Coming off a 17-16 win last week against Syracuse. ... Clinched bowl eligibility for the sixth consecutive season. ... Eighteen seniors playing in their final home game. ... Pitt DT Aaron Donald leads Division I-A in tackles for losses (2.4 per game) and is a finalist or semifinalist for four major individual awards (Outland, Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski). ... Freshman WR Tyler Boyd is one catch away from tying Larry Fitzgerald's school record for receptions by a freshman (69). ... Four of five losses have come by an average of 7.75 points, with two one-score losses. ... WR Devin Street (51 catches, 854 yards) is questionable with an elbow injury.

Miami: Beat Virginia, 45-26, last week. ... Win last week snapped a three-game losing streak after starting the season 7-0. ... Leads all-time series vs. Pitt 22-9-1, with a seven-game win streak dating to 1997. ... Won previous meeting at Heinz Field, 31-3, 2010. ... Lost RB Duke Johnson (145 carries, 920 yards) for the season after an ankle injury three weeks ago. ... Dallas Crawford has 45 for 207 yards since taking over the starting job. ... QB Stephen Morris is completing 58.5 percent of his passes for 2,572 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Hidden stat: Miami ranks ninth in Division I-A with 17 interceptions this season. Pitt QB Tom Savage has only thrown two interceptions in the Panthers' past seven games.

"That's going to be the last time I go out on [that] field as a player, last time I come out of the locker room," guard Ryan Schlieper said. "I'm sure I'll reflect then, but you don't want to get caught up in the moment."

Even quarterback Tom Savage, a two-time transfer who is playing his only year of eligibility with the Panthers, said he looked forward to one more game at Heinz Field.

"I'm blessed to be able to play here, especially after transferring so many times," he said. "Not too many people get to finish their career at a school like Pittsburgh. I'm blessed and I'm happy to be a part of this team."

Schlieper admitted he is emotional and will take time to savor the moment once the game ends. Hendricks, too, said he would try to wait until after the game to reflect.

"I get emotional. I get caught up in the moment," he said. "You might see a few tears, maybe. Hopefully I won't. I don't want to look like a baby."

These seniors have had to demonstrate maturity throughout their four or five-year careers at Pitt..

They were members of former coach Dave Wannstedt's final two recruiting classes. Redshirt seniors played one year under Wannstedt before he was forced to resign. The next two years included the weeklong tenure of Mike Haywood and the failed Todd Graham era.

"It just made me stronger as a person," Hendricks said. "I learned how to deal with changes. It really just helped me out in life. Things don't always go as planned, but you just make the best of your situation and roll with it."

They played two years under Paul Chryst, and, while Hendricks admits he sometimes thinks about where the program would be if Chryst had replaced Wannstedt three years ago, he tries to avoid it.

Chryst said he has been pleased with the work ethic these seniors have had the past two years. After so many coaching changes, playing for a staff that didn't recruit them, it would have been understandable if they checked out mentally.

"I never once asked them to buy into me," Chryst said. "It's just buying into themselves and each other and the team.

"I've really appreciated being around a lot of these guys. Certainly, there's a number of them, as you get to know them, you wished you had a couple more years with them."

As for today, Chryst said there's one way to make senior day truly memorable: Win.

"As far as the game itself, you want them to enjoy it and the best way to enjoy it is playing well," Chryst said. "Each guy's story is different, how they got here, what their experience was. You certainly want them to take it all in and be appreciative of it, but it doesn't have to all come to a head that day. It's a significant event, but, hopefully, it's one of many significant events."


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

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