ACC: Russell Wilson

Paul ChrystCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPaul Chryst's commitment to his players has helped make Pitt an attractive option for transfers.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Paul Chryst was canvassing Heinz Field before last year's Notre Dame game when he made a beeline for David Robinson, whose son played for the Irish. Chryst re-introduced himself to the NBA legend, who was at Navy when Chryst's brother, Rick, worked for the Midshipmen's media relations staff. Robinson laughed during the conversation, and he could not help but relay it to Rick minutes after.

"He goes, 'David, Paul Chryst. I'm Ricky's brother,'" Rick recalled. "David goes, 'I thought you were the head coach.'"

Perhaps no story better encapsulates Chryst's understated approach as the public face of a storied program. The son of a Div. III coach, he has been in coaching his whole life, with his only "real" job coming as a teenager when he helped his two brothers on their paper routes. He has had 12 different gigs as a college and pro assistant at 10 different stops, including three separate stints as a player and coach at Wisconsin, where he ended up playing for three different head coaches as a result of the death of Dave McClain.

His background is familiar to a Pitt program that he has brought some stability to now in Year 3, as the Panthers remove further away from the unceremonious exits of Todd Graham and Mike Haywood. And it might also explain the ease with which Chryst has handled one of the team's biggest building blocks: transfers.

It's not that Chryst has welcomed in others at an alarming rate; it's just the success he's had doing so. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson thriving after joining the Badgers from NC State is one thing. Turning a nearly-broken Tom Savage last year into an attractive NFL quarterback — while relying this year on three different starters who began their careers elsewhere — is quite another.

Chryst insists he hasn't drawn up a secret formula for properly integrating newcomers, saying that simply doing enough homework raises the odds of them turning into success stories.

"If you're bringing someone in, we are truly spending time — even when Russell came in — spending time getting to know them," said Chryst, who was the Badgers' offensive coordinator for Wilson's lone year in Madison. "Spend time talking to people that know them, people that don't necessarily have a vested interest in them, and finding out who they are. Knowing if you have a need. Do they fit a need?"

This year's Pitt starters are expected to include a former Michigan safety (Ray Vinopal), a former Ohio State end (David Durham) and a former Wisconsin receiver (Manasseh Garner).

Vinopal had transferred before the 2011 season, sitting out during Graham's lone year at Pitt. A product of Youngstown, Ohio, powerhouse Cardinal Mooney, Vinopal found a sense of familiarity with Chryst when the coach initially addressed his new players.

"When I first met him, it was like he was saying everything that I did in high school, just on a grander stage," Vinopal said. "And that's when I knew — I had success in the past with it, and I know that Pitt's going to have success with it, in the future and this year."

Chad Voytik saw enough of the same in Chryst in a short amount of time to resist bolting for greener pastures after the coach he committed to, Graham, left for Arizona State. The quarterback even went as far as to help patch the rest of Pitt's 2012 class back together, sold on Chryst's refreshing blueprint to rebuild the program from the inside-out.

Chryst cited the wayward career of Voytik's predecessor, Savage, as an example of why he feels the need to make things right when players enter a new program. Savage sat out two straight seasons before 2013, having been at Rutgers and Arizona before departing the Wildcats due to a coaching change.

"I think you owe that to the player, too," Chryst said of his due diligence. "I know what happened to Tommy when he had to transfer again. That's not right. And so I think you maybe have to be a little more sure that it is a good fit for them and for us, because they don't have another opportunity. That's it."

Rick said his brother took a cue in his approach from their late father, George, who coached Wisconsin-Platteville for 14 years and, like Paul, reveled in camp two-a-days and other fundamental aspects of the profession. Rick said that mentality served the brothers well as they worked their ways up in the sports world. (Rick is a former Mid-American Conference commissioner, while their other brother, Geep, is the 49ers' quarterbacks coach.)

"Whatever we were doing or wherever my dad was, that seemed like it was the biggest thing at the time," Rick said. "The Platteville Pioneers were playing Whitewater, and what could be bigger than that?"

When Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson had trouble one day reaching Chryst out at the Rose Bowl shortly after hiring him, Chryst called back the next morning apologizing, saying that Wilson had pulled him aside for a film session that went late into the night.

"You never have to apologize to me for that," Pederson said. "And I said that's exactly what you want. [He's] just totally committed to his players."

Vinopal echoed that sentiment, saying his ability to approach Chryst is night and day from that of past coaches. Chryst likes to think his open-door policy is more than just a saying, and the success rate of others walking through those doors to Pitt speaks to that.

"I think you're a better coach if you know your players better," he said. "And I don't think by any stretch that I've arrived or any of our coaches have arrived. I think we still need to do a better job of getting to know our players, and them getting to know us. And to me that's part of the fun of it, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying it."
Chad Voytik committed to Pitt during the short-lived Todd Graham era. He made it a point to stay after Graham's departure, and his two-plus years with Paul Chryst have proven to be productive.

Voytik stepped in for an injured Tom Savage during last year's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, playing the entire second half and rushing for a score to cap a 30-27 win over Bowling Green. He now enters his redshirt sophomore season as the expected starter under center for the Panthers, with a nice little momentum boost carrying him through this offseason.

ESPN.com caught up with Voytik this week to chat about his expectations for 2014.

What's been going on behind the scenes before camp opens next month?

Chad Voytik: We usually throw every day before our workouts and then we'll lift, of course, lift and run, so we're getting in good shape, we're getting stronger and we're working on our timing as well, our mechanics and all that stuff. And then I've tried to really attack the film room as well. I've spent a lot of time with our GAs and stuff, so it's been a really helpful time for me as far as learning and studying opponents' film and stuff, so it's been a really important time for me.

[+] EnlargeChad Voytik
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesChad Voytik said he benefited from playing in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. "It was honestly probably the best thing that could happen," he said.
What specifics are you working on?

CV: I'd say No. 1, I'm just trying to continue to work on my feet and to not always escape -- in other words, be able to step up and deliver throws if they're there. So continue to work on that. And you can never get too accurate, so I'm still continuing to drill in that and throw to receivers and stuff and try to get that as well as I can.

Take me back through the Pizza Bowl. We all know what happened. What were the emotions and nerves like for you when Tom went down?

CV: Being a backup quarterback sometimes isn't the easiest thing, and Tom took some nice hits throughout the year. So your stomach drops, you start warming up, it's not a great feeling. And then going into the bowl game I knew he was still a little bit banged up, and I saw him take that shot to the ribs and (he) got up slow. And immediately you're filled with nerves and you're getting anxious. ... It was definitely nerve-wracking at first, but honestly, it's a close game and we all needed to come together closer for the second half. As soon as you get out there it goes away and it's just football again.

Looking back, how much confidence has that given you going into this year?

CV: It was honestly probably the best thing that could happen. Of course (I) never want Tom to get hurt, but just having that little bit of experience when there was an actual game on the line, it wasn't just mop-up duty, it was really key for me I think as far as confidence and leadership and stuff, so (I) definitely carried some momentum over into the offseason and hopefully continue to carry it over.

How do you balance being the No. 1 guy without officially having the title of starter yet?

CV: It's still a competition. Coach Chyrst always says there's nothing bad about competition, in that he always wants us competing, and he would never declare a starter now. And it truly is an open competition right now, so I'm just continuing to work and just staying hungry, because nothing's guaranteed, and continue just to try to work like I am the starter and hopefully I can step into that role.

We all know about Tyler Boyd. Who else do you feel is going to step up in the passing game?

CV: Manasseh Garner's I guess a pretty familiar face, and he's been working really hard. And we have some young guys, we have freshmen coming in working hard. It's tough to pinpoint on one guy. My receiving corps, they've been out there every day with me just working really hard and always eager to work and always asking me if I'm going to throw that day or whatnot, so I really appreciate that out of them. It's helped me a lot, because if they're ready to work then that means even if I don't feel like it I have to be ready to work and then we're all getting better because of it, so it's definitely been good.

The parallels are obviously there on the surface: A Paul Chryst protege, undersized, No. 16. How often do the Russell Wilson analogies come your way? Ever talk to him or Coach about him?

CV: They don't come my way a lot. I've definitely heard it at times, but I always tell Coach Chryst: 'If I can be a successful college quarterback, then go on to win a Super Bowl trophy, then you can start comparing me.' (laughs) I'm always asking him about what Russell did, what Scottie Tolzien did. I always want to hear how they worked and how they approached it, because they all have regrets, they all have things they learned, and I want to know what they learned throughout their experience with him. So I ask him a lot about specifics, like, 'When Russell is put in this position, how would he react?' So different things like that, because it's really interesting to me, and it wasn't too long ago he was coaching him, so I like to hear that stuff.

Going back to when you first signed with Pitt: Why was it important to you to stick with Pitt after the guy who recruited you left? What stood out about Coach Chryst?

CV: The reason I stayed, I think honestly, is because I had already built relationships here. I was already committed for such a long time and I already felt locked in. Yeah, I could've de-committed, but to a certain degree, it wouldn't have been productive for me. I liked everything about Pittsburgh and I liked the people. Coach Chryst being the man that he was, I could tell his honesty, how different he was from the past regime and stuff. So it was just the right thing to do, I felt. He laid out a nice plan, and you just knew from the time he walked in here that he wanted to change things. And it wasn't the same pep talk that every coach comes in with, like ready to change the whole program. He was willing to change it from the inside out, he did it the right way and I think we all saw that.

Seeing Tom's pre-draft stock take the kind of rise it did and ending up in a good situation down in Houston, did you talk to him during that time? And just from your perspective, being close with him and knowing that he went through some of the things you're about to go through, what did you make of all that?

CV: I was so happy for him. If anyone deserves it, it's Tom. Just a great guy. He just got engaged actually. Just a great guy, and I was so happy for him. And yeah, I'm thrilled. I'll be texting him when camp starts or whatever if I need any advice or guidance, because he's always been kind of, not a mentor, but he's always been a really good friend of mine, and he's had the experience. Definitely someone I can lean on when I need words of wisdom.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
12:00
PM ET
Enjoy Super Sunday, gang.

NC State feeling super this week

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
2:00
PM ET
Pop quiz: Name the ACC team with the most players in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Florida State? Nope.

Clemson? Nah.

Miami? Try again.

If you said NC State, give yourself a shiny gold star. The Wolfpack have four former players preparing to start in the Super Bowl -- three on the Seahawks and one on the Broncos. But perhaps more impressive, all four were together on the 2007 NC State team:

  • Quarterback Russell Wilson, who redshirted that year.
  • Defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy, who also redshirted.
  • Linebacker Nate Irving, who became a starter as a redshirt freshman.
  • Kicker Steven Hauschka, a fifth-year graduate transfer from Middlebury College.
[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/John RaouxRussell Wilson was a three-year starter at NC State, throwing for more than 8,000 yards before transferring to Wisconsin for his senior season.
What are the chances? Pretty remote. While Wilson gets all the headlines, each player made his own impact for the Wolfpack -- and each overcame his own bit of adversity. Seeing all their success had former NC State coach Tom O'Brien sounding like a proud papa during a conference call with reporters last week.

"They're all great success stories," said O'Brien, now an assistant at Virginia. "They’ve worked so hard in getting to where they wanted to get to, and that’s what’s so exciting about coaching and being around kids like Nate and Steven and J.R. and Russ, the same way. All of the work they’ve put in off the field to get to be in this situation, that’s the exciting part for a coach."

Sweezy and Wilson were part of the first class O'Brien signed at NC State. While Wilson seemed destined for greatness, the coaching staff was unsure where to play Sweezy initially. He eventually settled in on the defensive line and was selected a team captain his senior year. But he got hurt that season and missed significant time. He was drafted in the seventh round but is now a Seahawks starter -- on the offensive line, protecting Wilson.

Hauschka just wanted a chance to play big-time football. After enrolling at Middlebury as a soccer player, he began playing football for the first time his sophomore year. NC State gave him an opportunity to come in for his final season, and Hauschka led the ACC in kicking and was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. After entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent, he bounced around a few teams before finding his home with Seattle in 2011. So far this season, he has made 33 of 35 field goal attempts and all his extra points.

In another interesting twist, Wilson, Sweezy and Hauschka -- all with the Seahawks -- lived in the same hall at NC State in 2007. Their friendship grew from there.

As for Irving, his chances of making the NFL appeared much dicier in 2009 after a car accident left him seriously injured. In fact, Irving sent O'Brien a text message last week that said, "Ha ha, the doctor said I’d never play football again."

Irving is penciled in to start the Super Bowl at strongside linebacker.

"Everybody looked at the car and said they don’t know how he got out of the car," O'Brien recalled. "I can remember being in the hospital room the next day. They knew he had a broken leg. He was in a neck brace, his lung was collapsed. I think he separated his shoulder. They weren’t sure about a spinal injury. ... What a great story for Nate to have the opportunity to come back and really work his way back. He was really very tentative when he came back, but certainly by the end of his senior year he was really a heck of a player for us."

So was Wilson, but he ended up transferring to Wisconsin for his final season. The two remain on good terms despite O'Brien's controversial decision to release Wilson from his scholarship. Now O'Brien can sit back and watch players he recruited to NC State on the grandest stage of all, knowing he will have coached a Super Bowl winner for the eighth time in the last 11 years.

But he is not the only one showing his pride this week. The current NC State coaching staff has made sure to tell recruits all about how well NC State will be represented on Super Bowl Sunday.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
12:00
PM ET
Didn't watch the Grammys. Can we still be friends?
Former NC State coach Tom O’Brien, now an assistant coach at Virginia, said on Friday that his relationship with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has “always been good,” despite the former NC State quarterback’s decision to transfer to Wisconsin for his final season of eligibility.

At the time, it was a controversial decision, and with Wilson heading to the Super Bowl, their relationship and Wilson’s decision to leave Raleigh has again come under the microscope.

[+] EnlargeTom O'Brien
Pete Emerson/UVa Media Relations Now an assistant at Virginia, former Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien says his relationship with Russell Wilson, who transferred from NC State, is good.
“I have no problems,” O’Brien said on a teleconference. “It’s always been good. Maybe some people think it hasn’t been, but certainly I think it’s been fine. I texted him and asked him for tickets when he came to the Redskins and then texted him I was just kidding him. Stuff like that. We’re good.”

After earning his undergraduate degree, Wilson was free to transfer in April 2011 and play anywhere. O’Brien boiled his decision down to simple math, as Wilson had one year left to play and his backup, Mike Glennon, had also already graduated but had two seasons of eligibility remaining. There was a concern that had Wilson committed to playing baseball, and Glennon transferred, O’Brien wouldn’t have any quarterback.

So he released Wilson from his scholarship and named Glennon the starter.

“Michael would have graduated that year,” O’Brien said. “He could move on if he wanted to at the end of that year, so that was just all part of the decision-making process that had to happen. You could have one quarterback, you could have two quarterbacks, or you could have no quarterbacks.”

O’Brien said he wouldn’t have done anything differently had he been put in the same situation again.

“I’m not clairvoyant, I can’t tell the future,” he said. “The thing you do and you always do is you make decisions on the facts you have at that time. Certainly with the facts and the situation the way it was, we parted on great terms. Russell went his way, we had to make a decision what’s best for NC State, we made that decision and went forward. Actually the best news is, it worked out for both kids. Both had the opportunity, both got to compete against each other and play this year on the field. It’s a great opportunity. It was a great opportunity for Russell and it was a great opportunity for Michael. We were lucky to have those kids the four years we had them playing, five years. People ought to be happy about that.”

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
12:00
PM ET
Can't wait for the ACC schedule to come out later today!

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 24, 2013
6/24/13
12:00
PM ET
Can't believe June is coming to an end already ...

Looking back at ACC QBs

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
5:00
PM ET
Athlon Sports recently ranked the top 50 college quarterbacks of the BCS era, and the ACC was well represented (at least by schools that are currently in the ACC). The ACC now claims Miami and Virginia Tech, though everyone knows those schools racked up titles and awards before joining the conference.

There are a few more recent names, though, that made the cut -- including former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson and current Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.

Here are the ACC-related names you should recognize:

No. 6 Michael Vick, Virginia Tech
No. 8 Chris Weinke, Florida State
No. 11 Russell Wilson, NC State/Wisconsin
No. 18 Ken Dorsey, Miami
No. 20 Philip Rivers, NC State
No. 27 Matt Ryan, Boston College
No. 32 Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech
No. 45 Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech
No. 49 Tajh Boyd, Clemson

It's nice to see Hamilton get some love, and for those of you thinking about Charlie Ward, don't forget this is only during the BCS era. To me, Rivers should be higher, one of the top three ACC quarterbacks of the BCS era in my opinion. As good as Wilson was, I wouldn't rank him higher than Rivers or Ryan. Listing Boyd is definitely a vote of confidence in his abilities, and Athlon thinks highly of Boyd, as the publication listed him as its No. 2 Heisman candidate for 2013.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
12:00
PM ET
The NCAA has really bungled things up this time ...

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 6, 2012
12/06/12
12:00
PM ET
Good luck to FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins and UNC OG Jonathan Cooper at tonight's Home Depot College Football Awards!

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 15, 2012
8/15/12
12:00
PM ET
Joining the list of things you could never predict in the ACC: Greg Reid to Valdosta State and Ray-Ray Armstrong to an NAIA school ...

Video: Draft prospects recall high school

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
4:00
PM ET

Michael Brockers, Quinton Coples, Stephon Gilmore, Stephen Hill, Luke Kuechly, Ryan Tannehill, Courtney Upshaw, Russell Wilson and Jerel Worthy talk about their playing days before NCAA football.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
12:00
PM ET
Up next: "One Shining Moment."
The Danny O'Brien saga ended Wednesday, 44 days after Maryland announced the quarterback would leave the Terrapins.

And for ACC fans, the landing spot may look a bit familiar.

O'Brien will join coach Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, marking the second straight year the Badgers notched a signal-caller from an ACC school through the graduate student exception rule. Former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson had great success in taking advantage of the rule last season, leading Wisconsin to a Big Ten title and the program's second straight appearance in the Rose Bowl.

The circumstances surrounding each transfer were different, but Wisconsin could reap more benefits in the short-term from O'Brien than it did from Wilson, as O'Brien is set to graduate this spring and will have two years of eligibility upon immediate arrival in Madison, Wis.

Yes, there are certain stereotypes that may plague a program that repeatedly uses the rule to bring in someone at the game's most important position year after year, and Wisconsin will have to overcome that through recruiting in the years to follow. But that shouldn't diminish the importance of the rule, as it is one of the few that truly rewards the student-athlete for taking care of business in the "student" part of that label.

O'Brien did just that, and it was clear that his marriage with Terps coach Randy Edsall was not going to last. So, despite earlier well-documented obstacles after the decision to transfer, O'Brien found a new home, an opportunity that was well-deserved. Now, both he and his former school can officially move on from this complicated chapter.

SPONSORED HEADLINES