Panther-lair - For Tipton, spring camp has been 8 months in the making
football Edit

For Tipton, spring camp has been 8 months in the making

Tre Tipton is just eight months out from a major knee injury that cost him the entire 2017 season, but Pitt’s redshirt junior wide receiver isn’t taking it easy on himself this spring.

The Panthers want to ease him back into action, in part because Tipton’s most recent injury isn’t the only one he’s suffered during his time at Pitt. The former Apollo-Ridge star also had his 2015 and 2016 seasons cut short, with the first injury coming in time for him to earn a medical redshirt.

Tipton, however, doesn’t view it that way.

“They’ve been surprised how hard I’ve been able to go with what I’ve been through,” Tipton said Thursday. “Honestly, it’s to the point where now I expect a lot more out of myself. It’s OK to say that you’re injured and you’re doing well. But if you’re an athlete, you’re born to compete.

"For me, I just don’t want to be average, I want to be better than I was the next day or the day before. I just want to continue to improve. Today I feel like I took a little step back, but I want to just keep climbing that ladder. That’s where I’m at right now.”

Thursday was the Panthers’ first practice in pads this spring, which meant it was the first time Tipton had the opportunity to hit and be hit since the injury. He admitted to moments when he was tentative. He was pleased to say he pushed through them, but he wants to be able to do that quicker than he did.

“Just because I just gotta continue to remind myself to keep going hard,” Tipton said when asked why he believed he’d taken a step back. “You get little tweaks here and there you start thinking to yourself, like, ‘Oh, OK. Ok. I just gotta keep going.’ I felt like I showed my strengths today. I proved to myself that I can continue to compete.”

If Tipton can continue to push through and avoid further injury, he has a chance to make a major impact on the Panthers’ offense. There is much playing time up for grabs in the wide receiver corps this season with Jester Weah now graduated and Quadree Henderson having opted to leave early for the NFL draft. Rafael Araujo-Lopes is back after leading the Panthers in receptions last season and Maurice Ffrench returns after catching 25 passes, but no other returning wideout grabbed more than 16 last season.

Tipton has just 12 receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown in his career, but the former All-State pick and Pennsylvania Class AA long jump champion at Apollo-Ridge has enough athleticism and experience to make a play for a starting spot.

“From a coaching stand point, it’s great to have him back out there,” wide receiver coach Kevin Sherman said. “Our team really is looking forward to having him back out there because we need added depth in the spring.

"We’re gradually easing him into reps. He’s not doing everything live or anything like that. He’s getting reps, getting his stamina up, getting back to running full speed like he’s used to doing. But he’s getting better. I think where he is right now, mentally, I like where he’s at. We just have to physically get him ready to go.”

Tipton believes that what he accomplished while he was kept off the field will help as well. The injury forced him to watch the game from a distance, but it helped his understanding of defenses.

“I feel like I can bring leadership to the table,” Tipton said. “I’m a little bit older than I was. I’ve had a lot of time to study film. To be able to study the defense. I feel like I bring a lot of knowledge to the game. I just plan on trying to help the team as best as I possibly can and help them win with maximum capacity that I can.”

Tipton now has to develop an on-field rapport with sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett, but he doesn’t think that will be an issue at all.

“Kenny’s always been like my little brother to be honest with you,” Tipton said. “We’ve always talked about it and what not. But that’s with any quarterback. You want to get a good rapport with all your quarterbacks: talk to them as much as possible, get the opportunity see what they like, what they want and you can express on what you like and what you feel on certain things. We just constantly work, constantly talk, and that’s with the whole receiver room.”

There’s also the issue of his number. Fellow wide receiver Ruben Fellows III wore Tipton’s No. 5 last season, but it’s illegal for two players who could be on the field at the same time to have the same number. So something’s gotta give.

But after the year he’s had, Tipton doesn’t see that as something worth fighting over.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, to be honest with you,” Tipton said. “I’m just happy to be back out here working my butt off.”