PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Tick, tock, tick, tock…Tyler Boyd barely had anything left after a few hours under steady sun, but he had just enough to pull in the pass from Tom Savage, and get out of bounds before Father Time could punish them any further.
“I was pretty tired, but I was trying to fight through adversity,” Boyd recalled.
The pressure was building.
Every eye was focused solely on him.
Yep, those two-minute drills during two-a-days can get pretty intense.
Okay, so, with a state championship ring for each finger, and only one loss on his entire high school resume, Boyd (6’2″, 185 lbs.), a true freshman wide receiver, has faced minimal adversity on the field. But he was a virtual virtuoso in high-leverage situations like the ones he practiced on the South Side, and so were teammates Terrish Webb and Titus Howard.
Clairton’s “Terrific T’s” are the subject of our next “Freshman 15” installment, as we spotlight freshmen who could impact the Panthers in the foreseeable future, and of the new players on this Pitt football roster, they might be the most closely watched ones entering 2013.
Boyd and redshirt senior Devin Street will each line up alongside Savage when the Panthers host No. 11 Florida State at Heinz Field Monday at 8:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan to usher in the ACC era for Pitt.
Last year the Seminoles led the nation in pass defense, allowing just under 162 passing yards per game. Among others, Boyd and Street will have to match up against a very accomplished senior cornerback, Lamarcus Joyner, and, off the bench, sophomore corner Ronald Darby, the 2012 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Regardless of who lines up on the other side of the ball, the mission objective for Boyd is to divide their attention.
“I think the offense is going to open up in a big way,” he said. “Devin is a big guy, so he’s going to get more double- and triple-teams. If nobody’s thinking about me, then I know I can make more plays. I’m trying to see everything he does…his steps, his reads, everything. I’m just going to follow right after him.”
Even when training camp was still in its infancy, Boyd had won the respect of the erstwhile All-Big East honoree.
“He’s just smooth. Just seeing him out there, everything’s natural for him. I think he’s definitely going to be able to contribute for us. He’s a smart kid, too,” Street said.
Outfoxing Boyd on the field was anything but easy the last four years. By the time he was ready to graduate, the “Bout Dat” Bears–a phrase he coined–had won four of their five consecutive WPIAL Class A championships and four straight PIAA crowns. He played an instrumental role in an ongoing state-record 63-game winning streak, finishing his career as the district’s all-time leader in career touchdowns with 117.
A MaxPreps First Team “Small School” All-American, Boyd verbally committed to Pitt during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl before weighing two other schools and later reaffirming his desire to play locally on National Letter of Intent Day Feb. 6.
He was the consensus WPIAL Player of the Year in 2012, but he would not allow himself to become spoiled by his own success.
“I knew nothing would be handed to me. I knew I had to come out here and work for everything that I want, so I came out here and pushed myself. Everyone else pushes me, the defense pushes me to go to my blocks and get off my rust,” Boyd said. “I felt like, skills-wise, that I had it. I had to come in here and learn the concepts and all the different things like route running, all the schemes and everything.
“I was kind of nervous about all of that, but once I got rolling it just started clicking.”
“I give Tyler a lot of credit for the way he’s come in from day one and has had a great approach. He sees himself on a big stage, and he’s going to get that,” Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said at his weekly press conference Monday. “I’ve also learned never to be surprised by Tyler. I’m anxious to see him and a lot of the guys who this will be their first time playing, but I think he’ll rise up.”
The daunting task of chasing Boyd all over Western civilization is nothing new to defensive backs Webb and Howard. They did it in practice for four years. Covering a seasoned vet like Street can’t be much easier, though.
“He has some long strides, so it’s kind of different. But it feels good to go up against Tyler,” said Webb, grinning. “It felt good being able to hit him, and play a little D on him.”
Strong safety and Preseason All-ACC selection Jason Hendricks told us he was impressed with all the underclassmen on defense during camp. Webb is listed right behind him on the depth chart for Monday’s lid-lifter, Howard will spell K’Waun Williams at one corner, and, fittingly, ex-high school teammate Trenton Coles will sub for Lafayette Pitts at the other corner.
“I didn’t expect to be in with the ones this early,” Howard said after a recent practice. “My confidence is through the roof right now, because I feel like I had a great camp.”
You had better believe these Bears will stick together as Panthers. Talk to any of them, and they’ll tell you team chemistry is one of the things that led to a great camp for all three.
“It’s easier playing with my boys that I’ve been playing with for a long time. It takes the edge off a bit. They keep you up. You push each other to keep going,” Webb agreed. “I feel like I adjusted very quickly, and very well. [The coaches] told me to stay ready. Just because we’re freshmen doesn’t mean we can’t make an impact.”
But that’s not to say that, entering their collective collegiate debut, the trio won’t be a little awestruck.
For Webb (5’11”, 180 lbs.), who made First Team All-PIAA Class A thanks to the Pennsylvania Football Writers, it will be his first trip to the North Shore since helping Clairton break Central Bucks West’s record for the longest winning streak in state history.
Win No. 60 might not have been possible without two electrifying touchdown grabs from Webb, who finished with 99 yards on four receptions, to hold off feisty Sto-Rox in a WPIAL Class A Final rematch. He ended his senior season among the district leaders with eight interceptions, and he was rated the No. 19 Pennsylvania prospect by Panther Digest.
“I can’t wait for [Monday’s] game, just to see the atmosphere, and what the college game is played like,” Howard said.
It would be hard for any freshman not to be in awe of FSU’s offense. Even though it will enter the season with an equally unproven quarterback, novice starter Jameis Winston has several options.
Running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder are coming off a strong 2012 campaign; the latter earned a Preseason All-ACC nod of his own. Fellow junior Rashad Greene has led the team in receiving yards each of the last two years, and he made the Biletnikoff Award watch list.
Not that seeing high-end talent is a foreign concept to these guys, of course.
“I’ve won four state championships. We’ve been on big stages before. We just need to show up and play,” Howard said.
Showing up is something Howard (6’1,” 180 lbs.) won’t take for granted. He had to miss the last of those four PIAA championships with a dislocated elbow.
Still, he entered Pitt the No. 23 prospect in the Commonwealth according to Panther Digest, and No. 17 according to 247Sports. After being named Class A Defensive Player of the Year by the Pennsylvania Football News, Howard joined Boyd at Hersheypark Stadium for the Big 33 Classic June 15.
In that game, Boyd threw for a touchdown and scored four others–including an opening kickoff return he guaranteed Howard he would make.
Sure, Boyd got all the glory with his Team Pennsylvania MVP award in a decisive win over Team Maryland, but a pick-six wasn’t a bad consolation prize for Howard.
The ‘Noles had better “Bear” down on Monday night. The Terrific T’s, like any freshmen, may take their lumps as the 2013 season unfolds, but they won’t be outside their comfort zone, despite the national attention drawn by this game and its guest.
“I’m pretty used to playing at Heinz,” Webb reminded us all. “It’s like a second home.”
(Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)