Pitt players turn focus to Penn State
The obligatory openers are finished.
Both teams are 1-0.
So now it’s OK to talk about the 99th Penn State/Pitt game Saturday at sold-out Heinz Field.
Pitt junior safety Damar Hamlin, who grew up in Pittsburgh, knows what it means.
“Just the way the city and the fans react to it,” he said, “it makes it seem like you’re a part of something that is way bigger than you and came way before you. And just seeing how all the old guys come back and tell us how much that game means, it makes you feel good to be a part of it.
“The whole city will be shut down.”
But it’s also smart to put the game in its proper perspective. Pitt senior running back Qadree Ollison already is doing that.
“This game is the most important game because it’s the next game,” he said, “and I’ll say the same thing next week. That’s the mindset we have to carry into each week.”
If Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi puts his players off limits to the media — as he has done the past two years the week before the Penn State game — Ollison has no problem with it.
“You want to just get to the game,” he said. “You don’t want to do a lot of talking: ‘How are you guys going to this? How are you guys doing to do that?’
“(Narduzzi) does that so we can focus just on the game, and we’ll see you all after.”
The dramatic ending to Penn State’s game against Appalachian State on Saturday — won by the Nittany Lions in overtime — attracted attention in Pitt’s locker room at Heinz Field and in the interview room where reporters and school officials waited for Narduzzi to conduct his post-game chat.
When asked if he and his teammates monitored the end of the game after they defeated Albany, defensive end Rashad Weaver at first played dumb.
“What game?” he said.
But in the end, he was honest.
“Everybody peeks,” he said.
Hamlin wasn’t surprised Penn State rallied to send the game into overtime and eventually won it.
“Penn State is a great team,” he said. “You can never count them out. You watch them the last few years, they were in tough games and they came out with the (win).”
Hamlin, who played at Central Catholic, has many friends on the Penn State team.
“Those are my boys,” he said. “They’re cool.”
Senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis, who played in the Penn State game in 2016 when Pitt defeated the Nittany Lions at Heinz Field, acknowledged “thousands of screaming fans. It’s quite an experience.”
But he said he wanted to focus on reviewing the Albany game before looking at Penn State video. Chances are, he spent most of his day Sunday doing both.
“You have to focus on this game from (Saturday) first,” he said. “We still got a ton of stuff to clean up. We played good football, but not our best football.. Me, myself, I had some missed tackles.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.