The son of a former linebacker and a former gymnast at his current school, Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri learned how to take criticism at an early age.
"My parents really instilled that in me," Sunseri told ESPN.com, adding, "They never really sugarcoated anything. They gave me straightforward answers every time I asked them, and they made sure that I was always told the truth."
Last season, the truth was that Sunseri threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10) in a campaign that went south following the loss of running back Ray Graham, as the Panthers dropped three of five games to finish 6-7. The truth was also that Sunseri was charged with running new coach Todd Graham's option-read, shotgun offense — a system that hardly fit him or his offensive teammates, though Graham often publicly voiced his displeasure with the unit.
But Graham's abrupt winter departure for Arizona State led to the hiring of former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who has brought a return to the pro-style attack that Sunseri and his teammates ran in 2010, his first year as a starter. And Sunseri is hoping that translates into a productive fifth and final season with the Panthers, who have become the popular darkhorse pick to win the Big East in their final year before moving to the ACC.
"I think the biggest difference is Coach Chryst really has brought us in and said, 'You have to forget about the past; only worry about the present and future,' " Sunseri said. "And I think that's what a lot of our guys have really done in the way that we've practiced. We really haven't thought much about what's happened. We're getting ready for this kind of offense, this kind of team, making sure that we're doing everything possible to work and get better each day."
Chryst, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger have demanded decorum across the offense as a whole, Sunseri said, making sure every player is on the same page from the routes they run to the way they line up before plays.
"Last year it was a little bit of a zoo," Sunseri said. "Guys were running the wrong routes each game, guys were making mistakes. So for us to really just focus in on each game, each player has to do their part. Obviously it's sports, and everybody works good as a unit."
The carry-over effect is felt under center, where Sunseri arrived in 2008 to play for Dave Wannstedt.
The son of Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, Tino said that he feels blessed to return to a pro-style system after the rough 2011 campaign, during which his frustration became evident in his teammates' eyes.
"Last year he was doing something that he wasn't really comfortable with, and I think we all could really tell that he wasn't really comfortable with all that," fifth-year receiver Cameron Saddler said. "He's confident again and he's a senior, man. I feel like once you become a senior you kind of just get a feel for the game. You're confident."
Sunseri has carried that confidence into this season, ignoring the public and in-house criticism from a year ago and recognizing his mistakes on his own through film study and practice.
It's all in the name of making the next play count more than the last, as Sunseri refuses to look at his final college season with the typical "last chance" narrative that follows so many seniors, especially at his position.
"Ever since I stepped into college, you never know what could happen," Sunseri said. "So each day I don't take for granted. I come out here ready to work great and try to push my team, make sure that we can accomplish something each day. And each day that I'm able to go out there and practice and perform, I honestly feel like I'm blessed and I'm lucky and I just wanna make sure I can keep on going out and keep the same approach."