Pitt Athletics

Pitt hires veteran OC Shawn Watson as Matt Canada’s replacement

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Veteran offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has been hired to become Pittsburgh’s next offensive coordinator, the Panthers announced Thursday evening.

Watson replaces Matt Canada, who followed a trail of Benjamin Franklins to take the same post at LSU.

“Shawn Watson was one of my first mentors in this business,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said in a statement. “He sat me down as a young coach and taught me how to work with wide receivers in my first full-time job at Miami in the early 1990s. Ever since that time, we have always talked about being able to reunite on the same staff again. I’m really thrilled that the time has finally arrived and he’ll be joining us at Pitt as our new offensive coordinator.

“Shawn is, first and foremost, a wonderful person and father,” Narduzzi added. “As a football coach, he is extremely knowledgeable, an excellent recruiter and will be a tremendous strength in the quarterback room and offensive staff room. I’m really looking forward to having Shawn and his wife Anita join us in Pittsburgh.”

Watson has previous coordinator experience at Colorado, Nebraska, Louisville and Texas, but was demoted after one game in the 2015 season in Austin and pushed off Charlie Strong‘s staff at the conclusion of that season. He spent the 2016 campaign as a quality control assistant at Indiana.

“I am tremendously honored and excited to join the staff at Pitt and be part of what Pat Narduzzi is building there,” Watson said. “Pat is one of my closest and dearest friends. I’ve known him for a very long time and have always admired the passion and energy he brings to coaching and teaching. Pat and his staff have accomplished so much in such a short period of time at Pitt. I can’t wait to join them, meet our players and get ready for spring ball.”

He inherits an offense that was one of the most improved nationally, as the Panthers jumped from 56th nationally to 13th in yards per play and 68th to 10th in scoring from 2015-16. That success led Canada to become a Broyles Award finalist as one of the nation’s best assistants and to the LSU job.

But the Panthers are likely due to take a step back in ’17 no matter who calls the plays. Starting quarterback Nathan Peterman graduated, leading rusher James Conner left for the NFL Draft and most of the offensive line leaves the roster as well.

Watson should gel with Narduzzi in terms of tempo. The Panthers have averaged around 65 plays per game over the past two seasons — generally good for around 90th nationally — which is slightly below the 68 snaps Watson averaged in his last two full seasons as a play-caller at Louisville and Texas.

WATCH: TCU RB Sewo Olonilua squats 705 lbs…. twice

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If you ever have the pleasure of standing in the presence of a high-level college or professional football player, you’ll be struck at just how big those dudes are. Obviously, they’re larger than the average male and especially so the closer you get to the ball — but if your only exposure to this small slice of the population is what you see on television, it’s easy to lose perspective at just how much larger they are than the remainder of the human population.

And any time I happen to be in the presence of a Power 5 or NFL player, one thought comes to my mind: “It’s someone’s job to move him in a direction he very much does not want to go.”

Case in point: TCU running back Sewo Olonilua. At 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, Olonilua is among the largest running backs in college football. And as the video below shows, he’s also among the strongest.

Now consider the following: Olonilau totaled 135 carries for 635 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. This means that on 133 of his 135 carries — 98.5 percent of his attempts — someone (or someones) brought Olonilau — again, a 231-pound running back who can squat 705 pounds twice — to the ground or pushed him out of bounds.

Iowa lands Division II graduate transfer

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The graduate transfer has become a great vehicle for Group of 5 and FCS players who over-perform at their level to shoot their shot at a Power 5 program. But Iowa this weekend added an extremely rare Division II-to-Power 5 graduate transfer.

Zach VanValkenburg on Saturday pledged his commitment to Iowa after being pursued by multiple Big Ten programs.

“So thankful for all the people who have gotten me to this point; my parents, my coaches in high school, and my coaches at Hillsdale,” VanValkenburg in an iPhone note posted to his Twitter account. “Leaving Hillsdale is bittersweet but I have reached the end of the road here educationally and my goals are uncompromising. I will always cherish the experiences I had here and the friendships I have made. With that said, I’m very proud to announce that I will be continuing both my academic and football careers at the University of Iowa this fall! Go Hawkeyes!”

Playing at Hillsdale College, a private college in an eponymous Michigan town, the 6-foot-4, 266-pound defensive end collected 70 tackles with 14.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2018.

He will be expected to add depth along Iowa’s defensive line after losing all four starters from last year’s team.

VanValkenburg will have two seasons to compete for the Hawkeyes.

Idaho WR diagnosed with kidney cancer

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Idaho wide receiver Collin Sather is battling advanced renal cancer, the program has announced. Renal cancer attacks the kidneys and most commonly attacks older men.

According to the Idaho Statesman, Sather began experiencing stomach pains on Jan. 17, and by Jan. 21 the pains had progressed to the point where he had to be hospitalized. He is currently undergoing dialysis and chemotherapy at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, and once he is stabilized will be transferred to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

“We are with Collin every day during this fight,” Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said in a statement. “He is a great young man and the model of a great teammate. Everyone in our program cares a lot about him, and he will always be a valued member of this team.

“We keep Collin and his family in our thoughts and prayers each day. We are here to help him keep fighting, and we will be here to welcome him back when he wins his battle.”

A Spokane, Wash., native, Sather was an all-conference player in football and basketball at West Valley High School before signing with Idaho in 2018. He redshirted last fall.

Mark Dantonio approved for rolling 1-year extension

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Mark Dantonio signed a 6-year contract in 2016 that was essentially an indefinite contract. Under the provisions of the deal, MSU’s Board of Trustees each February have the option to tack another year onto the contract, making it essentially a rolling 6-year contract, and for the second straight year they have done just that, according to the Lansing State Journal‘s R.J. Wolcott.

Though he is 2-for-2 on automatic rollovers (the deal would remain a 5-year contract if MSU’s trustees for some reason did not approve the rollover), both extensions have come amid a fair level of turmoil around the program.

In 2017, Dantonio successfully rebounded from Sparty’s 3-9 2016 campaign to go 10-3 with a No. 15 finish in the AP poll, but he was dogged by accusations that he mishandled sexual assault allegations against a handful of Spartan players — amid a complete mishandling (to put it lightly) of sexual assault allegations elsewhere in the athletics department, against gymnastics trainer Larry Nassar.

In 2018, Dantonio watched Michigan State’s record slink to 7-6 and, instead of making changes on the offensive staff, he opted to retain his entire roster of offensive coaches, though in different spots.

Still, Dantonio secured his extension. The 2025 season would take Dantonio to his 19th season at Michigan State and past his 69th birthday.

He is 107-51 with three Big Ten championships, two AP top-5 finishes and one College Football Playoff appearance in a dozen seasons as the head Spartan.