By Matt Popchock
Last Friday, with cameras from the Worldwide Leader present at Sarge Alberts Stadium, the best player in the Parkway Conference took center stage.
By the time the night was over, the “other” best player in the Parkway Conference had quietly stolen the spotlight, and the game.
On the day he verbally committed to Pitt, Rushel Shell saved the best performance of his senior season for just the right time. It still wasn’t enough, at least as far as Robert Foster was concerned.
With the Vikings needing a win over the WPIAL Class AAA champs to drive out of the perennial playoff gridlock in their conference, and with the Warriors keying on him, Shell racked up 264 yards on forty carries and a touchdown.
Foster, on the other hand, is not a stat monger. The district’s career rushing leader had more yardage on the ground Friday night alone than what his junior counterpart had all season entering the game.
Foster, in all probability, won’t even make the WPIAL’s regular season top ten in any major offensive category. He’s only contributed 500-some total yards of offense to Central Valley going into the penultimate game of the regular campaign, and he’s only scored four touchdowns, none of which came last Friday.
Foster, however, made two of the biggest plays of that game. His 38-yard scamper on a fake punt set up Central Valley’s first TD after Hopewell’s offense had jumped out to a fast start, and with just a couple minutes left in regulation, his 70-yard kickoff return set up the winning score.
He had the wind knocked out of him on the play immediately prior to the return.
Last November, there wasn’t an ESPN camera in sight at Heinz Field. Instead, an FSN Pittsburgh (as it was then known) crew was on hand to see Foster, again, rise to the occasion. His 146 all-purpose yards included a punt-return TD and a 73-yard touchdown catch in stride, helping the hybrid program cap its remarkable run to the WPIAL title, and putting a nice bow on arguably the best season by any Class of 2013 player in the district.
Robert Foster is a pure athlete who is great when he has to be. That’s what being an impact player is all about.
That’s what Todd Graham is getting in Chad Voytik. That’s what Todd Graham is getting in Rushel Shell.
That’s what he would get in Robert Foster.
It’s become painfully obvious Pitt, as presently constructed, simply doesn’t have enough of the personnel to do what Todd Graham wants and needs them to do in order for the program to live up to the “high-octane” hype.
He needs players who can not only excel at their respective positions, but do more than what their positions traditionally dictate. Once again, Robert Foster fits the mold.
The most exciting scholastic football I saw all weekend was not the Hopewell-Central Valley game, but rather, the Chad Voytik highlight reel ESPN-U aired during its coverage. He was–get this–throwing the ball deep and accurately, hitting receivers in stride, through heavy traffic.
Try to imagine Foster catching those balls and turning them into sixes. It shouldn’t be that difficult, because Foster has the tools to do it. Give him the ball, and a little bit of green pasture to work with, and almost invariably, he becomes the best player on the field.
Buddy Jackson’s punt return touchdown against the Utes at Heinz Field last Saturday was the first for Pitt since Darrelle Revis’ epic special teams score in the 2006 Backyard Brawl.
Guess what? Robert Foster can make those plays too. Lou Cerro and Dave Vestal can attest to that.
Foster, a 2010 Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 selection and all-conference honoree, has already received interest from Ohio State and Penn State, but to Pitt’s credit, his very first Division I offer has come from the Panthers. It would behoove them to stay as aggressive with him as they were with Shell, as others would agree, because ultimately, he’ll be able to go just about anywhere he wants.
With him in the mix, Pitt’s future offense would have the balance it needs. It already has a fleet-footed, efficient quarterback and a big, playmaking running back, and the arrival of Foster would give the Panthers someone who is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball–not unlike Shell.
Shell, in fact, has supposedly talked to Foster about coming to Pitt. For the sake of all parties involved, I hope Foster is listening.
Pitt’s future got exponentially brighter with the addition of Shell, the crown jewel in Graham’s 2012 recruiting class. Split Foster out to either side of Voytik, with Shell dotting the “I,” and that crown can become a Big East/ACC/whatever crown.
The fuel in the “high-octane” offense that has so often sputtered in “low-octane” fashion was upgraded in a big way last week. But Graham’s work isn’t done yet.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)