Benefits go both ways when Pitt players work with kids at Mel Blount event |

Benefits go both ways when Pitt players work with kids at Mel Blount event

Jerry DiPaola

It’s only a matter of days, and Todd Sibley knows it.

Pads will come on, coaches will shout instructions, muscles will ache, and Sibley will know summer is officially over no later than Tuesday, when Pitt opens training camp drills.

“I’m really looking forward to putting the pads back on,” he said.

But that’s next week. At the Mel Blount Youth Home on Wednesday, Sibley and 21 other newcomers to the Pitt roster were introduced to another side of life outside the lines of a football field.

For the 10th year in a row, Hall of Fame Steelers safety Mel Blount invited a group of Pitt first-year players (largely freshmen) to spend the day with about 100 young people at his 303-acre farm in Claysville, Washington County.

Sibley casually tossed a football with some of them. Tight ends Tyler Sear and Charles Reeves Jr. playfully put a few on their massive backs and posed for pictures. Quarterback Kenny Pickett shared a laugh over a lunch of burgers and dogs.

Former Pitt offensive lineman Penny Semaia, the university’s career and life skills coordinator, said the trip is a part of how the Cathy and John Pelusi Family and Life Skills Program prepares student-athletes for what comes after football.

“We are focused on developing the holistic person, everything from the mind, the body, the spirit, to helping them make strong decisions,” Semaia said. “Some of our guys, they were these kids. They remember going to these things in their hometown.

“The idea is simple. We want to make sure that we’re introducing our freshmen into the community outreach culture that we have within Pitt athletics. Giving back to our community is a top priority.”

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Meanwhile, players can explore something besides their playbooks (now loaded onto iPads, by the way).

“The student-athlete identity is a really hard transition, especially when it’s all over,” Semaia said. “While they’re in their student-athlete model, we want to help them explore the other elements of their life.

“Sport ends for everyone, whether it’s beyond Pitt or beyond their pro career. We want to make sure they’re prepared for that transition.”

Semaia remarks with pride on the former players who quickly have become contributing members of society, including Secret Service agents Chase Clowser and Brian Kaiser, who played football at Pitt a decade ago. Semaia said Clowser and Kaiser recently were responsible for protecting Vice President Joe Biden on a trip into Pittsburgh.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi talks to Semaia regularly about players taking advantage of his programs.

“To me, that is a true sign of someone who’s genuinely invested in helping his players grow beyond the sport,” he said. “He’s a groomer of men. He does that with such a passion that I love it. I feed off it.”

Blount enjoys hosting the Pitt players and exposing young people from several areas of Western Pennsylvania to athletes, many of whom have overcome adversity to earn college scholarships.

“It doesn’t happen overnight, but you have to start somewhere and start working toward a better way of living,” Blount said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

Pitt players, from left, Darian Street, Brian Burgess, Jalen Twyman and Michael Smith help with drills Wednesday, July 26, 2017, at the Mel Blount Youth Home.
Pitt football players huddle with kids Wednesday, July 26, 2017, at the Mel Blount Youth Home.
Pitt football players pose Wednesday, July 26, 2017, with kids from the Mel Blount Youth Home.
Pitt players Michael Smith (left) and Dontavius Butler-Jenkins help with drills Wednesday, July 26, 2017, at the Mel Blount Youth Home.
Pitt football players, from left, A.J. Davis, Charles Reeves, Jr., Grant Carrigan and Kenny Pickett eat with kids from the Mel Blount Youth Home on Wednesday, July 26, 2017.
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