Line Mountain grad helps Southern stay healthy at Pitt
PITTSBURGH — This past summer, Line Mountain graduate and University of Pittsburgh senior Elyse Whary got the school assignment of a lifetime.
She was given the opportunity to be a student trainer with the Pitt football team, something that would require a lot of work (about 40 hours a week in addition to school), but would be an amazing experience.
What makes it even more special is that she was assigned to work with the running backs, including Southern Columbia grad Henry Hynoski.
Suddenly, everyone who found out was holding her to her word to keep the Panthers’ second-string fullback in working order.
While this week she won’t be coming home for Thanksgiving, she’s excited to be helping Pitt prepare for its annual Backyard Brawl against West Virginia on Friday.
“It’s going very well,” Whary said. “I would probably say this has been the best time of my life.”
Hynoski knows he would have received top-notch treatment from any of Pitt’s student trainers, but the connection to home makes showing up for treatments or tapings a little easier.
“She got me through camp,” Hynoski said. “About midway through camp I sprained my knee and my ankle. I saw Elyse every day for two weeks for treatments, and she did everything. I didn’t miss one practice, and that’s because of her. Through the whole process we became really good friends.”
The season has flown by for Whary. It makes for a hectic life, but this year is helping her prepare for graduate school next year.
“I love it. I don’t want it to end,” Whary said. “I was just thinking back to August, and now November is almost over. I’m not ready for it to be over. It’s been great working with the guys.”
Hynoski is making the most of the experience of backing up pro prospect Conredge Collins, who many believe will be the first fullback off the board during the NFL draft in April.
“I’m doing good,” Hynoski said Wednesday. “I’m second team fullback, doing well with everything. I feel strong and fast. I’ve played in four games and did very well. The last two games I played, I graded out at 100 percent, and that’s based on knowledge and carrying out assignments.”
Hynoski is also running second to the back line on kickoffs. He’s also eyeing next season, when he’ll get the chance to prove that he can be the main guy at fullback. Collins has helped Hynoski get ready for that transition.
“He’s been a mentor throughout this year and last year,” Hynoski said. “After the season he wants to talk to me about what playing fullback in college football means. It’s more than just carrying and blocking; it’s being versatile, doing some things other fullbacks can’t do and being the complete package.”
This offseason will be important for Hynoski as he looks to hone the skills he’s focused on the last two seasons.
“I’ll look to improve on so many little details,” Hynoski said. “I know my assignments, but the little things like the right footwork, taking the right angle for blocking and making my technique as perfect as I can.”
Whary does have other running backs to look after, such as Collins, LeSean McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling. They keep her busy throughout practice and games.
“For practices we get in about lunchtime for guys who need treatments and tapings,” Whary said. “Then the players go to meetings and then practice.
“To some extent we’re glorified water carriers, but the first goal of athletic training is prevention, and water goes a long way in preventing dehydration.”
She is part of a 10-person training staff that includes three other seniors, three juniors, the assistant and head athletic trainers and a graduate assistant trainer.
Whary attends all practices, even the occasional 6:30 a.m. session.
She then attends classes from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, although class schedules are never that cut and dried in college. Practice until between 6 and 7 p.m. eats up a major chunk of her day. Until she eats and studies, the next day is right around the corner.
It’s a full-time job that isn’t paying the bills, but gives her a world’s worth of experience, and there are the fringe benefits.
She travels with the team for all of its away games, including those against the University of South Florida in Tampa and to Notre Dame.
“Road trips are fun, but it’s always stressed to be professional first,” Whary said. “We go to Friday’s walkthrough, then fly out. We’re free that evening until the walkthrough and game the next day. We’re allowed to sight see and eat dinner in town. It’s nice to see the other campuses, and we get to see a lot culturally.”
Depending on how Pitt finishes the season against West Virginia and Connecticut, Whary will again find herself hopping a plane for the last time with the players. Most of the possible destinations are in the south, and then there’s the International Bowl in Toronto.
The players aren’t focused on what bowl they might be playing in — that’s because this week is the Mountaineers.
“There’s always excitement with West Virginia,” Whary said. “It’s a little hard being over Thanksgiving since a lot of students go home.”
Whary has gotten a top-flight seat for all of Pitt’s games, but admitted she wasn’t immediately in the know when Hynoski was recruited to Pitt.
“When he was first recruited, I thought cool,” Whary said. “But I didn’t really know that much about him. Even when I was assigned to the football team, what were really my chances of being around him? Then I was put with the running backs, and he’s one of the eight guys I work with on a regular basis.”
Even working at the Valley Gun and Country Club in Elysburg during the summers, Whary was given instructions to take good care of the former Southern workhorse by various people she’d run into.
Sharing a dedication to the Panthers and working so closely with each other has led to a friendship neither imagined when they first set foot on Pitt’s campus. It’s even led to inside jokes and potato chips.
“A couple weeks ago, she brought in Middleswarth potato chips, and it was something no one else knew anything about,” Hynoski said. “And we said it’s an eastern Pennsylvania thing.”
Naturally the two had something else to talk about when their respective alma maters played for the District 4 Class A title two weeks ago.
“The last few weeks we were joking about the Line Mountain and Southern Columbia rivalry,” Hynoski said. “We beat them when I was a senior, and they came back and beat Southern last year, and then this year we beat them. It’s a little pattern going on. But before the game she kept saying how Line Mountain would win, and I’d tell her not two years in a row. It was a lot of joking back and worth.”
“I saw him two weekends ago when Line Mountain played Southern Columbia,” Whary said. “He was cheering for his team, and I was there to see Line Mountain.
“It was nice to see him away from the practice field. It’s been great working with him. He’s a fun guy, and it’s nice having someone around that you don’t have to explain where you’re from.”