SCA grad Hynoski makinghis mark in Pitt's backfield
PITTSBURGH - Through six games in his first season as the University of Pittsburgh's starting fullback, Henry Hynoski has the following statistics - 10 rushes for 48 yards and one touchdown, and five pass receptions for 31 yards.
Those numbers, particularly the rushing numbers, would have been about a half day's work during his days at Southern Columbia, and that would have been a bad half.
But there are other numbers that make Hynoski, the 6-2, 260-pound redshirt sophomore fullback who was the bread-and-butter ballcarrier on four state championship teams at Southern, happy these days. Numbers like 5-1 (Pitt's overall record), 2-0 (Pitt's Big East record), 166.7 (Pitt's rushing yards per game) and 388.6 (Pitt's total offense yardage per game).
"I don't care anything about (personal) stats anymore," Hynoski said last week after helping the Panthers earn a tough 24-21 comeback conference win over the University of Connecticut at Heinz Field. "I just want to win a Big East championship."
He and his teammates just might do that this season, particularly if they show the kind of resiliency they showed against UConn, which had a 21-6 lead on the Panthers late in the third quarter.
"It was a good come-from-behind win for us," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Our offensive line was physical and we were able to run the ball. At the same time, we have not played as good as we can for a whole game."
The 221 rushing yards Pitt had against UConn was particularly pleasing, since they came against the team ranked first in the conference against the run going into the game. And although Hynoski had just eight of those yards in four carries, he was a part of most of them. His blocking helped pave the way for tailback Dion Lewis to carry 24 times for 158 yards, he ran for a key first down on Pitt's first touchdown drive, and he carried twice for three yards to the one to set up Loyalsock High School graduate Dan Hutchins' game-winning 18-yard field goal as time ended.
"Henry has finally figured out that he's not a tailback," Wannstedt said. "As it turns out, he'll be one of the best fullbacks in the country in a couple of years."
Hynoski will tell you the transition has not been easy.
"The first year was tough," Hynoski said.
It's no wonder. He came out of high school having run for 7,165 yards and having scored 117 career touchdowns. But at 6-2, 240, and with only average speed, it was likely that any time he saw at the Division I college level was going to be more as a plow horse than a thoroughbred.
So, Hynoski went through a redshirt season lifting weights, lifted weights some more, lettered in spot situations and on special teams in 2008, and waited his turn behind veteran Condredge Collins.
Now, Hynoski has fully accepted his role.
"My role now is basically three things - block, short yardage runs and catch some passes," he said.
But somewhere in that good head of his (Hynoski is carrying a A average in his school work), Hynoski still thinks of himself as a running back.
"To be a good fullback, you have to be a good ballcarrier. You have to read the line and know where the insertion point for the play is. You have to know the certain way different plays go depending on if the outside or inside linebacker will be taking your block. All athletes are reading off what the line does, and that includes the fullback," Hynoski said.
Hynoski was a little frustrated by UConn's defensive schemes, often not finding a player to block on the initial surge because of the way the UConn linebackers were rotating.
Hynoski's biggest thrill of the season was his first collegiate touchdown, in a nationally televised game against Louisville two weeks ago. But as good as he felt about it, some of his teammates apparently felt just as good.
"I think the linemen think of me as one of their own," Hynoski said, smiling. "When they heard in the huddle I was going to get the ball, they were all telling me they were going to get me the touchdown. I think it felt pretty good for them, the way they were jumping around afterward."
Hynoski almost had touchdown number two, and a game-winning one at that, against UConn, before the Panthers settled for Hutchins' field goal, but Hynoski said that was the game plan all along.
"I don't know even know if they wanted me to score. We just wanted to run the clock down and give Dan a shot at it. The coaches wanted me to get as close to the goal line as I could and not fumble. The coaches know I'm not a fumbler," Hynoski said.
Lewis said he's fortunate to have big solid blocking back like Hynoski line up in front of him in the I formation.
"I know that whenever he blocks, I'm (probably) not going to get touched by that guy," Lewis said.
There are some other numbers Hynoski is interested in, too. The grading marks he gets from his coaches at film time.
"The last couple of games I was at 98, 99," he said. "They tell me anything above 70 is good, so I guess that's good."
Although his playing role is tightly defined at a Division I program, Hynoski said there is no feeling quite like playing in big stadiums in front of lots of people. Even if he always doesn't know those people are there.
"There's nothing like playing in front of big crowds," he said. "I get so pumped up. But usually, I'm just in a daze because I expend so much energy in the first quarter, I kind of don't know any body is out there after that."