Ricky Gary, who redshirted last fall, came back for Pittsburgh in the spring and steadily picked up his game. He went from being the Panthers' No. 4 cornerback to the sophomore Aaron Berry's backup.
Now, with Berry reportedly nursing an ankle injury, Gary is set to get his second straight start when Pitt faces Grambling State Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.
"Aaron Berry is better this week, but Ricky Gary will start,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "I think we've got to be fair about it, but Ricky has made some plays so far. He and Oderick Turner were the two biggest benefactors of the Buddy Morris offseason weight training method.
"They have put on 10-15 pounds. ... Ricky Gary has made plays and comes up and makes tackles. For a little guy, he's physical. He's from Pahokee, Fla. where Ricky Jackson is from. It's a good football program there. He had speed, but size and strength held him back until now.''
There was some confusion over Berry's situation, because Gary said that he was told last Monday that he would be starting the opener.
"I was excited, but I was a little nervous, too,'' Gary said. "It was my first time starting a big game, but I was prepared, too. I had faith in my hard work during camp and my conditioning, and I was ready. And I had all week to work on things and get ready. There was nothing really different for me.
"I worked hard all spring and summer with Buddy, and redshirting allowed me to gain weight and get stronger and mature. So, it was great for me, and I also learned my playbook better. That was the main thing for me. I got a little faster, too, and Coach (Jeff) Hafley really helped me out.
"He helped me break things down over the summer,'' Gary added. "It's very hard for a freshman, the game speed and everything are different, so I really needed the help. The older guys helped me to step up, too, and made me watch film and go to the weight room to get ready for the season.''
Fifth-year senior cornerback Kennard Cox was one of those upperclassmen who took Gary under his wing for guidance.
"I'm very proud of Ricky,'' Cox said. "He did very good. ... Ricky stepped forward, and I really appreciate that. It just shows the kind of character of guys we have on this team. If I go down, God forbid, or somebody else does, we have somebody else to step behind them and keep us moving on.
"I think Ricky came to school here at about 150 pounds, but right now he's maybe 175 or 180. So, that's a big improvement for him. He's faster and stronger, and he's learning the game. Last year, he was (everywhere), but right now he's doing what he has to do. He's taken a step forward.''
Gary noted that he actually weighs 168 pounds, about 10 pounds more than his weight when he arrived on campus. But he quickly added that it's a solid 168, and his strength and speed have increased as well.
"I felt very confident with what I did, and I was confident in my game because of how hard I've worked,'' Gary said. "And God does things for a reason, so I'll get another chance to start this week.''
And if Gary keeps playing the way he did against EMU, Berry might find it difficult to get his cornerback spot back.