The Panthers will enter Saturday's season opener at

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

The Panthers will enter Saturday's season opener at Three Rivers Stadium somewhat in disarray, as lethal weapons Latif Grim (senior wide receiver) and Ramon Walker (sophomore free safety) are nursing injuries while the team's quarterback situation remains a mystery.

But Golden Flashes head coach Dean Pees isn't buying any news hatched from the foe's headquarters.

"I couldn't tell you how many times I've heard players weren't going to play, then they showed up perfectly healthy on gameday," said Pees. "We're preparing for those guys, and we expect them to play. If they don't, then we'll deal with it.

"And I'm sure (Pittsburgh coach Walt) Harris knows who his quarterback is. He just doesn't want to announce it, and that's fine also."

Harris claims he'll give equal time to senior John Turman and junior David Priestley, who shared the quarterback duties last season. He has not said which player will start.

"I don't see anyone having separated himself," said Harris, in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

A healthy Grim will make the job much easier for either quarterback.

Grim, one of the premier wide receivers in the country, caught 75 passes for 1,106 yards in '99. He suffered an ankle injury during an intrasquad scrimmage this fall and was originally expected to miss the opener against Kent State, but Grim is now listed as probable.

Pees is doing what he can to prepare his young secondary to face Grim and running mate Antonio Bryant, who caught 51 passes for 844 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman a year ago.

And he admits, that's not much.

"I don't worry about our guys being intimidated," said Pees. "We just can't simulate the type of speed they're going to see on Saturday in practice, and that worries me."

Another concern heading into the opener is redshirt senior Zach Williams, who will make his first start at quarterback for the Flashes since taking over the spot on a full-time basis.

"He's been waiting five years for this chance, so he's going to be a little anxious," said Pees. "It's probably harder for Zach than it would be for a freshman in some ways, because freshmen don't know they're supposed to be scared. We'll need to have some patience with Zach, especially early on."

Williams will face an extremely youthful Panther defense, which features seven freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup headed by Walker.

The former Akron Buchtel High School star quickly developed a reputation as a fierce hitter at the college level a year ago, when he earned first-team All-Big East honors as a true freshman.

"Ramon's a great one," said Pees. "He can hit you, he can cover, he's the whole package."

Walker suffered a shoulder injury last season, which has continued to bother him this fall. But Pees expects to see him patrolling the Pitt secondary come Saturday afternoon.

"I think Walker will play," said Pees. "But our biggest concern is that they have a new defensive coordinator (Paul Rhoads, who previously coached at Iowa State), so we don't know what schemes they're going to run. Those are the things that concern coaches, not injury reports."

NOTEBOOK

ONE-SIDED SERIES ... Pittsburgh has won the previous five meetings with Kent State, including a hard-earned 30-23 triumph at now defunct Pitt Stadium last September. "They were coming off a tough loss to Penn State last year, and I think we snuck up on 'em," said Pees. "That won't happen this year."

NEW HOME ... The Panthers will play their home games this season at Three Rivers Stadium, then move into the city's new North Shore football stadium along with the Steelers next year.

WALKING WOUNDED ... Kent State wide receivers Matt Curry (mononucleosis) and Joshua Bostick (knee) are questionable for Saturday's game. Junior kicker Dave Pavich, who had an orange-sized growth removed from his lung just before the opening of fall camp, is expected to kick but may not kick off.

That job could fall into the lap of Jess Bechard, a former Kent State baseball star. Bechard was serving as the football team's equipment manager this fall when the coaches decided to let him try kicking. The experiment paid off, as Bechard has shown some surprising leg strength. He's consistently landing kickoffs around the 10-yard line.

LATEST LINE ... Pittsburgh is a 27-point favorite according to oddsmakers.

A complete preview on the 2000 Kent State football team can be read in

today's College Football Section.

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