PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — College newcomers are always told to watch out for “the freshman 15,” and we’ve got a Freshman 15 you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on–but for entirely different reasons.
With the first day of Pitt football training camp in the books, Panther Hollow is pleased to introduce a special series profiling 15 freshmen who we expect to make a significant impact on the Panthers in the foreseeable future.
Our first profile centers on the man under center, where redshirt freshman quarterback Chad Voytik finds himself in the middle of a compelling battle with cross-country journeyman Tom Savage that will not necessarily end during camp.
Savage is gearing up for his final year of eligibility after sitting out one season both here and at Arizona following a historic but injury-shortened stint at Rutgers. He came to campus with Big East freshman passing records and a well-sculpted 6’5″, 230-pound frame to complement his powerful arm.
Voytik, in contrast, measures up a little differently at 6’1″ and 210 pounds, but arrived at Pitt with a little more fanfare. The Cleveland High School (Cleveland, Tenn.) product was ranked among the top 100 prep QBs in the country by CBS Sports recruiting expert Tom Lemming, and he was tabbed as one of the nation’s top 25 pro-style quarterbacks by MaxPreps.
A U.S. Army All-American, he threw for over 5,000 career yards to become Cleveland’s all-time leader, and he also ran for over 1,000. The Blue Raiders captured the Tennessee District 5-AAA title in his junior year, as he compiled 2,125 all-purpose yards and 22 TD’s.
Excluding Rushel Shell, he was perhaps the biggest get of Todd Graham’s lone Panther recruiting class.
“He shows a strong, accurate arm, a quick release, he sets up well, and is proving to be a quick and athletic signal-caller,” Lemming said when Voytik was courted by Pitt in 2011. “He does a good job of escaping the pocket once it collapses, keeps his eyes downfield, does a very good job of finding open receivers, and throws a nice, catchable ball, but also shows the arm strength to throw the deep out with authority. He has a smooth delivery and clean arm action.”
In the annual Blue-Gold Game Apr. 12 Savage was limited by head coach Paul Chryst, albeit by design. He completed six of 11 passes for 80 yards, working chiefly with the first-team offense, before giving way to Voytik, who turned heads mainly with the understudies.
Voytik was a dazzling 27-of-33 for 358 yards and threw three touchdowns that night, including a pair to tight end and fellow freshman Scott Orndoff and a 65-yard bomb to junior wide-out Kevin Weatherspoon.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Savage begins the season as Chryst’s starter simply because of his seniority, if not also his raw physical ability. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone if Voytik is the man by season’s end.
“He’s been sitting in on our meetings a lot. He’s just saying to take it slow and gradually learn. I’ll get there for sure,” Voytik said Monday on the South Side when asked how his head coach has groomed him.
“We want to see command of the offense, especially in the first week, as we’re re-installing. While you’re doing that, you’ve got to feel comfortable with the offense and transition that to consistent play,” Chryst said.
Voytik has a rifle that rivals Savage’s, he doesn’t lose his poise when the pocket collapses, and now he’s got a greater level of comfort to match his mobility. That might not have happened, according to Voytik, if not for his 2012 redshirt.
“It was real important for me. This offense is tough and that year has helped me. In the spring, I came in with confidence and I thought it showed,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll carry over.”
Being a good student of the game–or anything else–seems to come naturally to Voytik, a former Big East All-Academic Team selection. Plus, considering fellow freshman Mike Caprara has temporarily supplanted Todd Thomas, an established junior, for his “Will” (weak side) linebacker spot, anything is possible if Voytik builds on what he did at Bethel Park Stadium on that brisk early-spring evening.
“I think I can be the pocket passer this offense calls for, but still have the threat of running in my back pocket,” Voytik said. “I know the base of each play, but now I’m trying to dig deeper and trying to grow in the offense. I’m definitely not satisfied, but I feel like I can go out there and trust my instincts right now. There’s still a lot of room to improve.”
“That’s the ultimate challenge: being the best you can be. It’s a competition with yourself, it’s a competition with another guy at your position, it’s a competition with someone across the ball, it’s a competition with the teams that’ll you’ll be playing,” Chryst added.
(Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)