- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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One of the most compelling players to watch in the ACC this season is Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, who will compete for the starting quarterback job in the spring after sitting out the last two seasons because of NCAA transfer rules.
Savage was a Freshman All-American at Rutgers in 2009 before deciding to transfer to Arizona following the 2010 season. After sitting out 2011, the Wildcats made a coaching change and Savage had an illness in the family back East. So he transferred to Pitt, where he sat out 2012. He only has one season of eligibility remaining.
I had a chance to catch up with Savage recently to ask him about his career path, and what it means to join the ACC.
What have the last couple of years been like for you as you’ve had to sit out?
Tom Savage: Obviously at the beginning it was a little rough, not being able to play. I’m a competitor and I just want to go out there and play. At the end of the day, what happened is what happened. I have to keep on working, and that’s what I tried to do. You can only get so many mental reps, eventually you have to go out there and take some reps and see the defenses. That’s what I tried to do with the scout team, to give my team the best chance to win.
How did you keep your head up, knowing there would be a light at the end of the tunnel eventually?
TS: I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I knew eventually the time would come. Obviously the cards I was dealt -- it was rough in the beginning. But I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else right now but Pittsburgh. I’m just happy this is where I ended up, and this is the path that journey led me to.
What ended up going into your decision to leave Arizona?
TS: There were a few things. My aunt was really sick and I was far away from home and no one was available to take care of her, so I had to come home for spring to help her out. That’s really what it was.
I’m sorry to hear that. Is she OK now?
TS: Yes, she’s still battling, but she’s a fighter so she’ll be all right.
That’s a huge reason, of course. Did the coaching change with Rich Rodriguez have any impact on your decision as well?
TS: I’m a realist. Me and Coach Rich Rodriguez, we had a good conversation. We’re still on good terms. That offense was not the best for me, but I was willing to stay and work it out. But the situation with my aunt, and then that, was just a big combination of things that made me lean toward heading home.
So why Pitt?
TS: I knew a lot about Coach [Paul] Chryst with my brother being at Wisconsin before. I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me with Tino [Sunseri] being a senior, learning behind him, and then getting an opportunity to play in a pro-style offense.
TS: Coach doesn’t have to say much. At the end of the day, it’s competition, and I’m used to it. So we have to go out there and make each other better. At this point in my career, whatever is the best option for the team, that makes me happy.
Certainly, but I’m sure there is a part of you that desperately wants to win the job.
TS: I want to win it extremely badly. I want to go out there and play. I’m going to work as hard as I can to compete and that’s that. If the coach feels I’m the best option, that’s what we’ll do.
What have you homed in on or worked on in the last year?
TS: With doing the scout team, it brought back a little bit of backyard football for me, trying to make plays. That’s what I’ve been working on. As a freshman, you do what you’re told and play a little robotic. Now you open it up. It’s crazy I haven’t played since my freshman year and now I’m a senior. So you do a 180 and try and make plays and do everything you can to keep the chains moving.
What do you think it’s going to be like for you when you get in a game, considering you haven’t played in so long?
TS: I’ve been thinking about that the last two years of my life. Right now I would assume I’m going to be nervous, but I’d be lying to you if I told you I was going to be nervous because I really think I’ll just go out there and play as hard as I can. I’ve got one year to do it. I’ve been through it before, and I‘ve succeeded many times, and I’ve failed many times. I’m not too nervous about it, just go out there and have fun and play ball.
From a players’ perspective, what does moving conferences mean?
TS: The ACC is a great conference, and there’s a lot of great athletes over there but at the end of the day, at the quarterback position you're just doing what you can do. It doesn’t matter the competition -- we have to handle our business and go out there.
Have you thought about some of the bigger games on the schedule against Florida State and Miami?
TS: It’s definitely exciting to go out and play against the ACC, there’s a lot of great teams out there. It will definitely give us an opportunity to scale where we are as a program. We’ll go out there and give it our best and see what happens. It’s definitely going to be fun. It’s going to show us what we’re made of and how we’re going to handle it.
4dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna