Tkach reflects on grid career
PHOTO BY GEORGE GOJKOVICH/COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH
When Ty Tkach was finishing up his senior year at Northern Lehigh, there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to play Division I football.
So with Dave Wannstedt finishing up his first year as head coach of the Pitt Panthers, he didn't have to think twice when they threw an offer his way.
"It was the tradition, Coach Wannstedt and just the environment out there," said Tkach, who finished his career with the Panthers in their 27-10 win over Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama the first week of January. "I fell in love with the University and they had fantastic coaches. It was a great place to go.
"It was Coach Wannstedt and just the way he sells the University that helped me make my decision final. Nobody loves Pitt more than he does. He's just great in selling what the school can do for you.
Tkach, who graduated last spring with a Bachelors Degree in Marketing, is currently working on his MBA in Pitt's Katz Graduate School of Business. With a year of football eligibility left, there was no way he was going to pass up playing a final season for Wannstedt and his staff.
It came as a real shock to him and his teammates when the coach of his entire college career was asked to resign back in December after what the University called a disappointing 7-5 regular season.
"We were actually working out as a team," said Tkach when he learned about the move. "We were walking out to go over to the indoor practice facility and a couple of guys got text messages asking if they heard anything. Then when we came back in to the locker room, everyone had text messages that said Coach was being let go.
"It was kind of like a circus like atmosphere. Guys were running around and finally Coach (Greg) Gattuso came down and kind of cleared the air and said that Coach was going to resign and there was going to be a press conference that night."
Through the following month, Wannstedt continued to coach practice up until the team left for the bowl game. He didn't want to actually coach the game because he wanted the attention to be on the team and not on him.
Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett coached the bowl game and just recently was hired as the defensive coordinator at Baylor. Coach Gattuso, Tkach's defensive line coach, took the job as Randy Edsall's defensive line coach at Maryland. Wannstedt right now remains at Pitt as a special assistant to the AD and all but two members of his staff have taken jobs elsewhere.
The 2010 season will be one that Tkach will remember the most because after playing in all 12 regular season games and finally got to start in the bowl game against Kentucky.
"It was awesome to finish it out like that," he said. "To go out with a start, it finally happened last game.
"Coach Gattuso just said after the last game he was going to let everyone just open up and the coaches all knew that they were all going to be let go. He said he just wanted everyone to play and whoever practiced the best, that's who would start.
"When we came back after winter break, Coach Gattuso told me to just keep doing what I was doing and that I was showing him what he wanted to see. I started running with the first team. The night we got to Birmingham, Coach Bennett came to me and told me I was going to start."
He went to Pitt as a defensive end, but moved around quite a bit, just wanting to play wherever needed. The 6-3, 275-pounder was moved to tight end for the spring in his freshman year, then went to defensive tackle and came full circle back at defensive end again.
He suffered a foot injury and had to undergo three surgeries last season, missing all but two games. Most players would have thrown in the towel, but not Ty.
"You just kind of try to stay positive and going through rehab knowing it will heal eventually," he said. "My teammates and coaches really kept on pushing me so I just wanted to get back out there."
Tkach also points to this year's game at Cincinnati as one he'll remember the most because it was played in the snow, the Panthers won and along with it came the Big East title.
Even though he redshirted his freshman year, he still traveled with the team to UConn and Syracuse because he was "Scout Team Player of the Week" prior to those games.
Ty said that one thing he'll take with him after he gets his Masters Degree is some of the relationships he's made with people during his Pitt tenure.
"A lot of people helped me through the tough times with everything that happened with Bo (who took his own life back in 2007)," he said. "Coach Wannstedt called me, all of the assistants were there for me when it happened. The players, everyone. It just taught me a lot how people should be treated.
"Even with what happened to Coach Wannstedt. It was a tough thing to go through."
This fall, he hopes to work with the football program as a graduate assistant, not necessarily on the sidelines, but with recruiting.
Coming from a football family, where his father Jim coached for so many years and still helps the Northern Lehigh program today, don't be surprised if you see Tkach wind up on the business side of the game some day.