Pitt walk-on Wuestner making the most out of opportunity
Pitt coach Paul Chryst gave freshman Chris Wuestner a chance to play Division I football with a walk-on spot.
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For most of the early part of Pitt's scrimmage Saturday, the defense dominated play. Save for a couple of short touchdown runs, there really wasn't much scoring to be had.
Finally, late in the session, freshman walk-on Chris Wuestner broke open across the middle and hauled in a pass from quarterback Chad Voytik for a 30-yard scoring play.
As those in attendance looked at their rosters, trying to figure out who this No. 17 was, Wuestner was greeted on the sideline with some helmet slaps from his fellow receivers.
"It was good when they all came to me, patted me on the back," Wuestner said. "It was kind of a relief to get my first touchdown."
While that may have been his first touchdown of training camp, Wuestner has made his presence felt over the past week. With Mike Shanahan and Devin Street, the Panthers' top two receivers, battling injuries, Wuestner has seen extensive work with the first- and second-team offenses.
"For a young guy, he's in the books, he's working hard, he's learning and he's competitive," receivers coach Bobby Engram said. "Especially in the one-on-one drills, the blocking drills. He's fighting hard as all of these guys are, trying to earn some time."
Wuestner admitted that, if you had told him even a few months ago that he would be playing this big a role in Pitt's final preseason scrimmage, he wouldn't have believed it.
Wuestner didn't have any Division I-A scholarship offers coming out of Carlisle (Pa.) High School, thanks in large part to a hip injury that cost him his entire junior season. Before that, he said his school ran a wing-T offense that didn't involve many passing plays.
As a senior, he caught 52 passes for 880 yards and nine touchdowns. At that point it looked as if his football future lay in Division I-AA.
When Pitt hired Paul Chryst, though, the new coach was still in need of a big receiver who could play on the outside of his pro-style offense. He couldn't offer Wuestner a scholarship but brought him in on an official visit.
Wuestner was weighing an offer from Lehigh, but because the Patriot League didn't offer football scholarships, it would be less expensive for Wuestner to attend Pitt. Much more important, though, Pitt's offer allowed him to fulfill a lifelong dream.
"I just wanted to take the opportunity," Wuestner said. "I always wanted to play Division I ball and coach Chryst gave me that opportunity, so I took it."
Wuestner does fill a role that Pitt will need as it moves to Chryst's offense. Most of the receivers on the roster are smaller players who fit in former coach Todd Graham's spread offense. At 6 feet 2, Wuestner is one of only a handful of players big enough to play that outside receiver position.
Chryst has no reservations about relying on walk-ons, either. Nearly 20 percent of Wisconsin's starters in the 2012 Rose Bowl started their careers without a scholarship. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, a walk-on, racked up 346 total yards in that game.
Even if Wuestner ends up redshirting this season, he said he wouldn't mind.
"That's just an extra year to get my education and an extra year to learn, get bigger, faster, stronger," Wuestner said.
If what he has shown this week is any indication, there appears to be a spot for Wuestner in the future of Pitt's football program. Chryst has mentioned frequently during training camp that players need to take advantage of any opportunities they get to show why they deserve to be on the field. Wuestner may just be the poster child of that mantra.
"It's crazy, but I've been working really hard for this," Wuestner said. "I knew that when the opportunity came, I wasn't going to just get caught up in the moment."
First Published August 20, 2012 12:00 am