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U. of Pittsburgh
Football: Guzek ends up key man for Panthers

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Pitt senior defensive end Brian Guzek has learned that there are disadvantages to mixing football with a mechanical engineering major. With the help of that academic department, he has taken some upper-level courses before lower-level classes to avoid conflicts with football.

Brian Guzek forced a fumble against Virginia Tech last season that helped Pitt steamroll Virginia Tech. (Post-Gazette)

"The way I feel, I can't miss practice and expect to play like much," Guzek said last night between practice and studying.

There are advantages to having a difficult and technical major, too.

"I'll tell you what -- my notes are probably the best notes on the squad," Guzek said. "Watching film, it helps, too. You kind of get a systematic approach to everything."

Guzek can use all the help -- technical and otherwise -- he can get this season. When the Panthers open Saturday night at home against Ohio, he will be the old man of the defensive line. He is the only senior and returning starter among the defensive linemen expected to play this week.

"We're counting on him a lot this year for a lot of plays, at least until the other guys come along a little bit and get their feet wet," defensive ends coach Curtis Bray said. "He knows the defense as well as the coach. He can play both end positions. So he's helped out those young guys. He's helped me out."

Guzek would have had help from another senior, Ryan Smith, who made 16 career starts at Pitt, but Smith had to give up football during training camp because of recurring and painful back problems. Instead of Smith as a backup, Guzek now has a redshirt freshman, Kevin Harris.

"There's a lot of young guys," Guzek said. "A lot of them look toward me for little tidbits of technique. I'm trying to help them as I'm trying to learn and get to know the game plan. It's a tough role, but I think I've grown into it pretty well. I've had, not a hard, hard road, but a lot of things have happened to me."

Guzek came to Pitt out of South Park High School as a linebacker. He was slated to redshirt as a freshman in 1999, but the Panthers were hit with a rash of knee injuries to their linebackers that year.

Late in the eighth game (against Virginia Tech), Amir Purifoy joined the list, and Guzek was forced to give up his redshirt and enter the game.

The next week against Miami, Guzek made his first college start. Late in the first half, he landed wrong on a stunt and thought he bruised his knee. He stayed in the game, finishing with eight tackles, three of them unassisted. The next morning, his knee was dark and swollen. His medial collateral ligament was torn, and his freshman season was over.

The next year, he moved to end. Despite being undersized for the position at 6 feet 2, 255 pounds, he has prospered. He has played in every game the past two seasons, starting six, with a combined 75 tackles, 13 for lost yardage, including three sacks.

A highlight came last year in a 33-7 win at Temple, when he had four tackles, two sack assists, forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles.

After one of those recoveries, he lumbered 80 yards for a touchdown. He didn't do a touchdown dance. He did a touchdown pant.

It's a play the Panthers still enjoy watching.

"I can still see him running down the sideline," Coach Walt Harris said. "Whenever we show that on the highlight tape, every guy on the team just kind of [grunts] like they're helping him get down there."

Guzek takes the ribbing good-naturedly. If he wants it to stop, though, he'll have to come up with something better this season.

That could happen.

"He played linebacker, so he understands our defense," Bray said. "He's gotten himself to be a pretty decent defensive end."

NOTES -- In the backup quarterback derby, freshmen Tyler Palko and Luke Getsy took most of the snaps behind starter Rod Rutherford, with redshirt sophomore Pat Hoderny getting the fewest. ... Cornerback Shawntae Spencer, who has missed time because of a virus affecting one of his eyes, practiced with a shield on his helmet. ... Tight end Darryl Weston, who missed practice time last week because of headaches, is back at full speed.

Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.

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