At the start of practice on Tuesday, WVU football was playing “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond over the loudspeaker. The song is traditionally played at Pitt after the third quarter with “Let’s go Pitt” chants mixed into the lyrics.
Some WVU players followed what the fans have done since that tradition began in 2008 and chanted, “Eat sh*t Pitt.”
The team hasn’t fully begun preparing for their Week 0 match-up against Pitt which will be the first backyard brawl since 2011. But the players are well aware of the game’s significance and have been looking forward to it the entire off-season.
“I’ve been waiting on this my whole life,” said defensive tackle Dante Stills. “This game is big for all of us. This isn’t a team thing, this is a state thing. As a whole state we’re looking forward to this game. Me and my guys, we’re amped up.”
Dante Stills is the son of Gary Stills, a former WVU defensive lineman who played with the team from 1996-98 before a 10-year NFL career. Dante was recruited and offered to play at Pitt, but had his mind set on following in his father’s footsteps at WVU.
“I was in high school, so I was like, this is exciting,” said Stills on his visit to Pitt. “But at the time I knew about the rivalry, so I wasn’t going to go there.”
WVU offensive lineman James Gmiter is from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, which is a suburb of Pittsburgh. He didn’t grow up a Pitt fan, but a Notre Dame one due to his grandfather. Notre Dame and Pitt, while not nearly to the level of the backyard brawl, are rivals with 71 games between the two.
So while he may not have disliked Pitt to the nature of say USC or Stanford, he didn’t exactly care for Pitt growing up. Despite growing up with a dislike of Pitt he still remembers how he wasn’t offered or even heavily recruited by his hometown school. It’s something that has motivated him to perform in this game.
”100%,” said Gmiter when asked if not being offered stayed in the back of his mind. “Even if they would’ve offered, I wouldn’t have given it a thought.”
Not lost on the offensive lineman is that this will be one of the most challenging games the team will play all season. In addition to the rivalry aspect and pure hatred from both sides, Pitt is coming off their best season in almost 50 years. And the expectations remain high for Pitt despite the loss of Heisman candidate Kenny Pickett and Blitenikoff winner Jordan Addison.
The team was recently listed by Phil Steele as the ninth best team in the country. In the predictor’s magazine, each of Pitt’s units was ranked higher than WVU’s and Steele gave Pitt the second best defensive line in the entire country behind only perennial powerhouse Clemson. Leading to the argument that week 0 may be the toughest test the veteran WVU offensive line has this season.
”I think the biggest preparation that we’ve had is that stat itself,” said Gmiter. “That they’re going to be the top, so they say, in the country. But we feel that we’re going to be one of the top o-lines in the country too. That kind of put a chip on our shoulder, make us work harder.”
That also isn’t lost on Tony Mathis, the team’s starting back this season. He’s tasked with replacing current Los Angeles Charger Leddie Brown and improving a run game that ranked last in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (123.2).
And to start he’ll be going up against a Pitt run defense that mostly returns from last year when they were sixth in the country, allowing just a measly 89.3 yards per game.
”Definitely,” said Mathis when asked if the expectations around the Pitt defensive line were a motivating factor for him. “It’s motivate our offensive line too. To show that they’re a great offensive line as well. It’s going to be a good game. I’m ready for it, we’re all ready for it, the o-line is damn sure ready for it.”
The two rivals face off on September 1 at 7:00 p.m. at the recently renamed Acrisure Stadium. Pitt is currently a 6.5 point favorite in the nationally anticipated game that will be the host to the first College Gameday of the 2022 season.