All Mike Caprara needed was an opportunity, and on the first day of the 2013 training camp, he got it.
Caprara worked with the first-team defense at outside linebacker during Tuesday's workout, and he is excited to make the most of his opportunity.
The redshirt freshman, who was flanked by fifth-year senior Shane Gordon in the middle and redshirt junior Anthony Gonzalez at the other outside spot, found out about the decision Monday.
"It's definitely a blessing," he said, "but I kind of feel like I've earned my role here so far. I've put a lot of time in here since I redshirted. I came in under weight, and this redshirt season was big for me. I'm just excited to grasp the opportunity."
Caprara said his redshirt year in 2012 helped him earn his spot. He worked hard in the strength and conditioning program to increase his weight, and he also studied the playbook religiously, working to learn Pitt's defense under new coordinator Matt House.
"I wanted to be on my game," he said, "because once your number is called and you go out there, you have to know what you're doing."
Still, the move bumped redshirt junior Todd Thomas - who led Pitt's linebackers in tackles last season despite only playing in nine games - to the second team for Tuesday's practice, although head coach Paul Chryst has been adamant that, at this point in camp, there is no depth chart, and the personnel deployed during practice served as a starting point in the search for the best three linebackers.
"There is no first team; there is no second team," the second-year head coach said after Tuesday's practice. "We're trying to find the best guys, so if you go back and look at all the reps, a lot of guys got reps with ones, a lot of guys got reps with twos.
"I thought Mike did some good things in the spring, but he's obviously got to get better. But I liked some of the things he did, and he's in the discussion for the top six linebackers."
Caprara understands his role as well. He knows there's a long way to go in fall camp, and he's just trying to take advantage of his opportunity.
"This thing right now, don't get me wrong, it's not a depth chart. It's a rep chart," Caprara said. "Todd Thomas is just as good as any other linebacker out there. We're just trying to get comfortable right now, and we have so many different schemes. Things are going to work out.
"I wouldn't quote that Todd Thomas is a backup; it's just a rep chart for now. We're just trying to find the best 11 for each package that we have. With our rep chart right now, this is where we're going with it."
The redshirt freshman is also getting used to a new position. He worked on the first team at middle linebacker in the spring while Gordon was nursing a neck injury, but now that Gordon is back, Caprara is working on the outside. This is the first time he has played outside linebacker since his freshman year of high school (except for the Big 33 game), but he has taken to the position already.
"To be honest, the Mike-backer is the hardest one," he said. "So I just took all the rules I learned, and cut them in half. It's just a little bit different being on the outside. It's the hard part for me because I don't see the whole thing, I only see one side. That's my only problem right now, but that just takes reps over time and I'll be alright."
All of this has happened extremely fast for Caprara, considering he didn't have a Division I offer about 20 months ago.
He finished his career at Woodland Hills as the school's all-time leading tackler, making over 350 stops, but despite all the accolades, Caprara didn't have any options until Chryst was hired in December 2011. Less than a month later, the Woodland Hills product jumped on the Pitt coaching staff's offer.
But Caprara's not focusing on how he got here; he's looking forward to the opportunity that lies ahead.
"It's happened really fast," he said, "but I can't sit here and just dwell on it like 'Oh, I'm so happy I got it.' I just have to go with it because many opportunities happen pretty fast. I'm not used to it, but I have a feel for it."
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