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August 17, 2013

Rowell was driven to stick at Pitt

The Pitt coaching staff has a specific idea of what its offensive linemen should look like, and in December of 2011, Artie Rowell didn't fit.

When Paul Chryst arrived from Wisconsin and hired former Badgers' assistant Jim Hueber to coach the line, they were looking for size in the trenches. 6'5" and 300 pounds were the minimums, and in most cases they wanted to stretch those figures to their logical extremes while maintaining athleticism.

As such, Hueber took one look at Rowell - all 6'2" and 270 pounds of him - and drew some conclusions about the realistic possibility that he'd ever see the field at Pitt.

Never one to mince words, Hueber communicated his doubts to Rowell.

"I talked to him and told him, you know, it's going to be hard to play with the style of offense we're playing if you're going to be 270 pounds," Hueber said Friday.

It was a conversation the Pitt staff had with several players and recruits when Chryst was hired in December 2011, and some, understandably, decided to pursue their futures elsewhere.

But not Rowell. The Central Dauphin product consulted with some close friends, as well as former Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise, and took the conversation with Hueber as a challenge.

"I knew I could do it," Rowell said Friday. "If Coach wanted me to gain some weight, I had to gain some weight and put in the time in the weight room and study the new offense. And I did it."

Rowell didn't just gain weight. Yes, he's up to 305 pounds now, but the redshirt sophomore has done more than just put on an extra 35 pounds in the last 20 months.

"He's done everything he could do to put him in a position to compete and (have) a chance to run with the one's," Hueber said. "He's a testament to hard work and really heeding what the coaches say to you."

The payoff to that work came Friday during Pitt's scrimmage. After spending the first nine days of training camp as the backup to redshirt freshman Gabe Roberts - who is listed at 6'5" and 295 pounds - Rowell was moved up to the first team Friday and worked the entire scrimmage as the starting center.

"It felt good to finally run with the one's full-time," Rowell said. "I worked hard in the offseason and the summer and working with the rest of the guys throughout training camp. But really, you win jobs when you put the pads on and it's not over yet, but I'm coming closer."

The competition at center is not over yet. While Rowell has, by some accounts, played as well as Roberts - and, in some instances, played better - in training camp, the coaches coveted Roberts quite a bit as a recruit and like his size.

"Gabe's big, and he's got a chance to be a real physical player," Hueber said. "Artie bends a bit better, probably runs a little better for some of the stuff that we're doing."

The desire for size as well as the natural affinity for a targeted recruit - this Pitt staff recruited Roberts; it inherited Rowell - could shift the balance toward Roberts as the season opener against Florida State on Sept. 2 at Heinz Field draws near, but if Rowell continues his strong play into the final week of training camp, he can make the decision a difficult one.

Still, it's not the prospect of a single day of first-team work that drove Rowell to stay at Pitt, even after his position coach seemed to intimate that he might be better served by playing at another school. It was the drive to meet the challenge, and Rowell has shown that his drive is big enough to meet the coaches' standards.

"When adversity hits you, what are you going to do? Are you going to run away from it? Or are you going to stand up to it and fight it?"




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