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Tino's Time

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Tino Sunseri spent the summer preparing to step into two different roles for the Pitt football team: one as the new starting quarterback and the other as a strong leader for the Panthers offense.

For a Pitt team that is young offensively, the second role may be as important as the first. Sunseri believes he’s ready for both.


“I don’t think leaders are made overnight,” Sunseri said. “I think it’s something you have to be ready for whenever you’re young and you kind of just step into it.”


The redshirt sophomore steps into the leadership role amidst a tough early schedule, which includes a season opener at Utah and a Sept. 23 match-up with No. 13 Miami (Fl.), but Sunseri said he’s ready for the challenge, assuring that he “[doesn’t] need baby steps.”


Entering his third year in the program, Sunseri said he’s prepared for teammates to look to him for guidance.


“You have guys underneath you that are new and you also have guys older than you that understand your work ethic,” Sunseri said. “I feel like I’ve been here and I’ve done it and I’m ready to take on that leadership role.”


Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Jr. agreed, saying that Sunseri’s learning curve ended after his first training camp and last spring. Now, Cignetti said he trusts Sunseri to lead the Panther offense, even in critical, must-score situations.


“Competitors and leaders like Tino, they thrive on that adversity,” he said. “They can’t wait to be put in that position and be successful.”


Sunseri echoed Cignetti’s words, saying that he’s equipped to drive the offense down the field in high-pressure situations. He’s not just a game manager, Sunseri said, he’s a leader.


“Everyone keeps saying that I’m going to be a manager,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to be a manager. I think I’m ready to take that role where if it’s a pressure situation and we need to score points, I can do that.”


Last season, Sunseri watched as senior Bill Stull overcame junior-season struggles to lead the Panthers to their best record since 1981 and a victory in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Stull was the unquestioned leader of the 2009 Panthers and Sunseri said having the opportunity to observe Stull was invaluable.


“It helped a lot, just being able to be on the sideline with him and being that one play away,” Sunseri said. “Just being able to talk to him on the sideline helped tremendously, because he understood the situation… and he also asked for my help and I asked for his help.”


Cignetti added that Sunseri’s opportunity to learn from a leader such as Stull is important to a quarterback at any level. He learned from someone doing the job well, Cignetti said, and that experience will help when it’s Sunseri’s turn to take the field.


“You get the chance to sit back and analyze it and see how it’s done, rather than being forced into a situation and not knowing what it looks like,” Cignetti said.


Wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin already sees similarities between Stull and Sunseri, saying that both quarterbacks aren’t afraid to take charge in the huddle and point out mistakes.


“It’s very important to have a quarterback [who is a good leader],” Baldwin said. “You always want to have somebody that gets on you if you mess up, not if you mess up just ‘It’s OK.’ Most guys like a tougher guy at quarterback. Bill was a tough guy and Tino’s a tough guy, as well.”


Sunseri said he spent a lot of the off-season making sure he knew the playbook, so that he could critique mistakes and answer any questions in the huddle.


That work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rest of the offense, Baldwin said, who look to Sunseri to get the huddle orchestrated


“I can tell from the spring, Tino’s done a great job… picking guys up, telling guys when they made a mistake, and getting on guys if they make a mistake,” Baldwin said.


Fullback Henry Hynoski said Sunseri wasted no time asserting himself as a team leader and gave the team the confidence to follow him because of his preparation during the summer, both in the film room and during conditioning.


“He’s just developed a mentality for the game and he really knows what he’s doing,” Hynoski said. “A lot of the guys, they view him as the next leader of the offense because of how much he knows.”


It’s important for a football team to have a capable leader at quarterback, Hynoski said, because although any player can try to motivate the team, ultimately the Panthers are going to listen to the guy calling the plays.


“It’s very important to us that we have somebody in there who has a lot of backbone, that isn’t afraid to stand up to anybody, and that will take charge,” Hynoski said. “Tino has done a nice job of that so far.”


Cignetti said that a lot of Sunseri’s leadership ability comes from his football background. Sunseri guided Pittsburgh Central Catholic to a 16-0 record and the PIAA and WPIAL Class AAAA championships during his senior season. He’s also the son of Sal Sunseri, former All-America linebacker at Pitt and a long-time college and NFL coach, currently assistant head coach at Alabama.


“Tino’s a coach’s son, he comes from a great football family, he has natural leadership,” Cignetti said. “He’s a natural competitor. I’m excited to see him grow in that role. His greatest strengths as a player are leadership and competitiveness.”


Despite Sunseri’s poise, and the praise he’s earned from teammates and coaches, head coach Dave Wannstedt said Sunseri will still have to work on gaining confidence as the season progresses.


“The biggest thing with Tino, as it is with every quarterback when you haven’t been a starter, is gaining some confidence,” Wannstedt said. “He has the confidence of our team… but we have to make it happen on the field and that only comes with game experience.”


Still, Wannstedt didn’t hesitate on setting the tone for the season, expressing faith in his new quarterback as a player and a leader.


“It’s Tino’s time,” he said. “He’s a winner. I think you combine the intangibles with the athletic ability and his intelligence and Tino is going to have a good year.”

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