PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Devin Street can be seen on the front of this year’s Athlon Sports ACC football preview magazine. Nowadays, when it comes to “covering” the redshirt senior, that’s about as easy as it gets.
He passed on a chance to get his NFL career started early for a chance not just to become the greatest pass-catcher in Pitt football history, but, more importantly to him, to help guide the program back toward greatness.
“I’m very grateful. I was just home, talking to my uncle, and my dad, about how everything’s falling into place,” he said of his decision to stay in school. “Everything happens for a reason. I prayed on it a lot. Everything’s going right right now. I’m blessed to be with all the guys downstairs, and [around] everything that’s going on.”
Spirituality, indeed, is one of his finer traits, but that’s not to undersell the speed or vertical ability the football gods gave him. Street enters his final collegiate season needing 1,015 yards receiving to become Pitt’s all-time leader. He finished last year with 975 yards–good for third in the Big East–scored five touchdowns, and led the conference with 73 catches to earn Second Team All-Big East honors.
As perhaps the safest bet in a young, new-look offense that projects to be something of a crapshoot, he’s bound to get plenty of targets. With fellow receiver Mike Shanahan gone, and tailback Ray Graham also trying his luck in the NFL, he’s ready to be the focal point of this offense, following in some pretty large footsteps as he scales the school’s record book.
“I just try to bring experience,” Street said. “We’re putting some different things in, changing it up a little bit. I’m running different concepts, different types of routes. It’s my second year in the offense, so I’m kind of comfortable with it.”
One of the biggest changes is coming under center, with walk-on journeyman Tom Savage likely to begin his final year of eligibility as Pitt’s starting quarterback. Savage hasn’t set foot in Heinz Field since making a cameo in a 41-21 loss as Chas Dodd’s backup at Rutgers in 2010, and he couldn’t take a single snap for either the Panthers or Arizona the last couple years due to NCAA eligibility requirements.
The untimely departure of sophomore tailback Rushel Shell, presumably the team’s most formidable skill player other than Street, was supposed to make matters worse.
Street doesn’t see it that way.
“Working with Tom has been a blessing. We’re out there every day, trying to feel each other out so that it’s second nature when we get out on the field, which has been another blessing for us,” he said.
“Since my freshman year, it’s been a different culture and atmosphere. Everybody’s working together, and treating each other right–no negativity.”
It’s hard to draw many positives from consecutive 6-7 campaigns, but the biggest one, without question, is finally having stability on the sidelines. Paul Chryst has put an end to the coaching turmoil at Pitt and the external ridicule that resulted, and, results aside, it’s abundantly clear faith in that staff has escalated.
“We’re comfortable with the coaches. We can come up, watch film, talk to them, feed off them, see what we have to do extra,” Street explained. “[For me], it means stability–being more comfortable with them, and them being more comfortable with me, and being able to put me in different spots.”
Wherever he is, he wants to do what he can to finally make the Panthers a winner again. He epitomizes what Chryst has been looking for since talking last year about the need for a culture change within the program, and why the Shell saga was brought to such an abrupt end. Chryst wants players who he knows will pour their hearts into his football team and wear its uniform as a badge of honor, and Street, one such individual, likes what he sees this summer.
“It has to be a family atmosphere, but it also has to be a working atmosphere,” he said. “Guys are treating it like a job…but at the same time, we’re bonding, and getting that much closer. When we get on the field, we’ll have each other’s backs. We’ll play together.
“I would say we’re in a totally different state right now.”
Through no fault of his own, some rather large elephants have lingered in the room during Street’s time at Pitt. Always one to ignore those elephants–not to mention his own preseason hype–he speaks about that difference with conviction.
He and the rest of the Panthers bear the burden of proof beginning on Labor Day.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)