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Pitt’s DL gets what doctor ordered by adding medical student Scarpinato | TribLIVE.com
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Pitt’s DL gets what doctor ordered by adding medical student Scarpinato

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, August 14, 2015 10:18 p.m
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Pete Madia | Pitt athletics
Pitt defensive tackle Mark Scarpinato (left) drives past a blocker during practice Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, at UPMC Sports Complex on the South Side.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi thought he knew Mark Scarpinato.

They spent three seasons together at Michigan State before Scarpinato, a backup defensive tackle, walked away from the game he loves after the 2013 season to pursue a career in medicine.

Now after sitting out last season, he has decided to scratch his football itch and use his last season of eligibility at Pitt. And, in the process, he gave Narduzzi a pleasant surprise.

Common sense suggests Scarpinato might have a difficult time physically readjusting to the game after spending an entire year in a cadaver lab or classroom at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Common sense would be wrong.

“I’ve seen a fifth-year senior take a year off and come back for pro day and look awful,” Narduzzi said. “I was kind of thinking we might get that (from Scarpinato). But I’ve seen none of that.”

Scarpinato, though, admitted to some muscle soreness after the first five days of Pitt’s training camp.

“I was joking with (defensive line) coach (Tom) Sims,” Scarpinato said, “I have to oil up the joints with a little WD-40, get everything back.”

A little pain is a small price to pay.

“It feels great to be part of a football team again,” he said.

So, if Sims keeps the oil can handy, it appears Pitt will finally have some experienced depth on its interior defensive line behind seniors Darryl Render and K.K. Mosley-Smith and junior Tyrique Jarrett.

Through the first week of camp, Render battled a minor stomach ailment, giving Mosley-Smith, Jarrett, Scarpinato and others the bulk of the work. If all four players are healthy, Sims can rotate them and keep everyone fresh, a situation that becomes especially important early in the season on hot September days.

Scarpinato (6-foot-3, 285 pounds) said he is in good shape after working out last year with personal trainer Brad Arnett. Arnett’s clients include Houston Texans All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt.

Scarpinato said he has been impressed with how well Pitt’s offensive line — especially center Artie Rowell and guards Dorian Johnson and Alex Officer — have mastered the art of double-team blocks.

“I have to give credit to the offense,” he said. “They are really running the ball well. Artie is killing it. Dorian comes down and hits hard. (Officer) comes down and hits that double team.”

Scarpinato’s edge is his familiarity with Narduzzi’s defense and his ability to recognize the pre-snap reads he was first taught during his redshirt season of 2011.

Scarpinato, who earned his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Michigan State in three years, has learned the delicate trick of balancing football and academics. In fact, he prefers handling the demands of both at the same time.

At Pitt, he is pursuing a master’s degree in health and policy management, a curriculum that includes weekly meetings with hospital executives, along with his 15 credits.

That’s a full day, but he said it’s easier than when he was just going to class last year and not playing football.

“That’s exactly what I love about football,” he said. “If you have a bad day in school, you can take it out and hit those offensive linemen. If you don’t have a great day in practice, you can crush the exam.

“You have two ways to excel.”

Note: Pitt will scrimmage Saturday at its practice facility on the South Side. … Narduzzi said there will be other scrimmages this month at Heinz Field. All are closed to the public and the media.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review pitt football reporter. You can contact Jerry at 412-320-7997, jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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