Panther's DL Devin Cook, a sophomore, signs shirts of players at the "Little Panther Camp", held at the University of Pittsburgh Panther;s Pratice Facility on the South Side. The Little Panther Camp is for kindergarten and elementary school children.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Over the past two weekends, Pitt played host to hundreds of high school football players at its prospect camps. Monday, the Panthers played host to some “prospects” of a slightly smaller variety.
About 120 youths ages 5 to 11 took part in Pitt’s “Little Panthers” camp at the team’s South Side facility.
Current Pitt players including safety Reggie Mitchell, offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty, running back Rachid Ibrahim and receiver Jester Weah, among others, ran the youths through drills and concluded with a session of “Panther Ball,” a game that has, well, loosely defined rules.
“As one kid explained to me, there are no rules,” Bisnowaty said. “The only rules are you can’t block and you can’t tackle.
“Run around catch the ball, see who can score.”
For most of Pitt’s players, the afternoon provided a touch of nostalgia as they recalled going to similar events from their youth.
Bisnowaty and Mitchell, both WPIAL products, were once regulars at Pitt youth camps and, later, their high school days as prospects.
They remember getting instruction and advice from guys like wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, so they’re happy to pay it forward to the younger campers.
“Just being around them, feeling like you were a part of the team,” Mitchell recalled. “It was a great feeling just to be around guys like that.”
Weah didn’t grow up playing football, playing basketball and soccer instead, but he recalled going to similar basketball camps and, in one instance, getting inspiration from former NBA star Sam Cassell at an event in Houston.
Plus, Weah can relate well to the campers, both younger and older, as he was just learning the fundamentals of football a few years ago.
“A few of them today were just having trouble getting around the cones, but I could just tell them to keep doing it and you’ll get better,” he said.
In addition to bringing up old memories, the coaching experiences also might have given Bisnowaty a glimpse of his future. While he obviously wants to play football for as long as he can, he said he hopes one day to go into teaching and coaching.
He even spent four days earlier this month in Indianapolis at the NCAA’s Career in Sports Forum, where he was able to hear from and network with other student-athletes, coaches and administrators. On the field, Bisnowaty’s recent coaching experience gave him a bit of a hands-on taste for what it’s like to be in that coaching role.
“I’m out there, not yelling, but getting frustrated with these kids,” he said. “I kind of see where [Pitt offensive line coach Jim] Hueber comes from. He’s not yelling at us, he just cares about us.
“When he gets mad at you, you understand now, you’re trying to coach these kids, and they’re not picking up what you’re saying. It’s interesting to see that different perspective.”
•NOTE — Bisnowaty, who missed most of spring practice with a back injury, said he is fully healed and lifting weights with the rest of the team. He expects to be 100 percent by the time Pitt starts training camp in early August.
Sam Werner: email@example.com. Twitter: @SWernerPG.
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