August 17, 2007

Gary learning his role

Ricky Gary came to Pitt a year ago with the idea that all freshmen dream of, that is playing as a true freshmen. He chose the Panthers over Big Ten schools Ohio State and Minnesota with the idea of getting on the field and helping the Panthers as soon as possible. What he found when he got there was that his natural abilities only took him so far. The college playbook was a little complex, so he took a redshirt. There were other factors involved, such as Darrelle Revis and Kennard Cox starting every game last year at corner.

Gary made the most of his redshirt season and his offseason. He worked hard every day learning the playbook, and spent a lot of time in the weight room getting stronger and bigger. He has gained 10 pounds this offseason, and his increased strength has helped him with jamming receivers. His best attribute so far this camp is his positioning, either covering receivers well enough so that he is right there to make the tackle, or deflecting a pass at just the right time. His field instincts also seem a little bit ahead of where a redshirt freshman should be. He has received praise, almost daily, from head coach Dave Wannstedt. Athletic abilities have never been the issue with Gary. Experience and learning the playbook have been his only obstacles. He realizes his role and already feels a sense of urgency to contribute.

"We have to have more depth in the secondary for us to be the best in the country," Gary said. "That's how it goes now. Being second-team, you have to be ready when they call me. I'm really ready to play this year."

Gary is paired up with Lowell Robinson at corner on the second-team defense. While there's no real danger of Kennard Cox and Aaron Berry losing their spots on the first-team defense, having Gary and Robinson play at a higher level betters the unit has a whole.

Gary didn't take it personal when he wasn't able to play as a true freshman. There were 11 players from his freshman class that played in 2006, and he wasn't one of them. As the season wore on, he became more aware of what he needed to do. Gary has taken that learning experience and has become one of the team's biggest surprises of fall camp.

"Last year, I didn't really get into my (play)books," Gary said. "I don't know why. I thought I was going to play, but everything happens for a reason."

He has even placed an emphasis of leadership on himself, not typically seen from a redshirt freshman. There are two freshman cornerbacks backing him up on the depth chart, in Buddy Jackson and Sherod Murdock, who like Gary both came to Pitt as highly-touted cornerbacks from Florida. He sees what he went through as a true freshman, and how it's not an entirely bad thing to take a redshirt. He understands what they may be going through, and wants to make sure they don't take it personal if a redshirt is in order for them this year. As it has for Gary this year, their opportunity will come.

"I talk to (Buddy and Sherod) every day," Gary added. "I tell them 'Just keep your head up, and don't lose sight of what you came here for. Stay focused.' Last year, I got down on myself. Things happen for a reason. I went through it my first year. A lot of people go through it their freshmen year. There's one out of ten guys that dominate and play your freshman year. The playbook, most definitely, gives you trouble."

Tony Greco can be contacted at pittpath@hotmail.com..










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