Bill Stull Jr. was born in Newton Falls and raised in Canfield and Poland.
By MARKY BILLSON
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
PITTSBURGH -- Most of the preseason attention surround the University of Pittsburgh's football team has focused on quarterback Tyler Palko.
After all, the junior became the first quarterback ever to throw for five touchdowns in a game against Notre Dame last year en route to leading the Panthers to their first New Year's Day Bowl in 21 years.
But while Palko has become the Panthers' best pro quarterback prospect since Dan Marino- no small feat at a college where six signal callers since 1993 have gone on to sign NFL contracts -- a freshman who spent his formative years in the Youngstown area is already paving a path to be Palko's heir apparent.
Moved to Pittsburgh
His name is Bill Stull, Jr. He was born in Newton Falls and raised in Canfield and Poland before moving to Pittsburgh in the middle of the sixth grade.
And he not only was ranked by Rivals.com as the 11th best pro-style quarterback in the nation from the 2005 recruiting class but has become Palko's primary backup.
Oh, Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh won't come right out and say it. They'll continue to tell reporters that Shane Murray, a Pittsburgh native who led Marino's high school alma matter, Central Catholic, to the Class AAAA Pennsylvania state championship last year is still in the running for the No. 2 quarterback position.
But judging by the fact Stull is almost exclusively working with the second team in practice, it's a safe bet that he's only one snap away from the field when Pitt plays host to Notre Dame Saturday to kick off the season.
"Billy's been pretty consistent the entire camp," said Wannstedt. "I'm real encouraged where [Stull and Murray] are at. If they have to play, they'll play."
"He's accurate and can make a bunch of different throws for a young guy," added Cavanaugh, a Chaney High graduate.
Still on skinny side
True, Stull seems a bit on the skinny side at 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds. His scrambles in practice are a bit awkward, he calls the speed of the college game "unbelievable" and readily admits the playbook at Pitt is "ten times bigger than the one I had in high school."
But if the accurate spiral into the lap of receiver Terrell Allen on a deep route over the middle in practice is any indication, the efforts of Cavanaugh to have Pitt's quarterbacks visualize a play before they execute it is paying off for Stull.
The road to Pitt began at McKinley Elementary. While Stull's sisters Alison and Brooke were leading Poland High to the girls basketball finals in 1998, the younger Stull quarterbacked the Poland Little Bulldogs (11 and 12 year olds) to the Northeast Ohio Youth Football League championship by throwing for over 100 yards in the "Super Bowl" championship game in Alliance.
Father asked for transfer
Sensing an opportunity for his son, his father asked General Motors to transfer him from the Newton Falls plant to the one just south of Pittsburgh in West Mifflin so his son could develop in Western Pennsylvania, the much-publicized "cradle of quarterbacks."
Development would occur at Seton-LaSalle High School, where he would throw for 5,572 yards and 62 touchdowns over two years.
"You can tell he's coming out of a system where he knew how to throw the ball," Cavanaugh said.
Curiously, Stull wasn't heavily recruited by Pitt until former coach Walt Harris left for Stanford in December. He actually verbally committed to Kentucky right before Christmas.
But Stull told reporters throughout the recruiting process he wanted to come to Pitt, so he was naturally interested when Wannstedt called a week and a half after taking over the Panthers' program.
Throw in the fact that offensive line coach Paul Dunn, one of the primary recruiters of Stull to Kentucky, had joined Wannstedt's staff at Pitt and that Stull's favorite receiver during his junior year in high school, Joe DelSardo, was now starting for the Panthers and the decision to come to Oakland was an easy one.
"I'd always dreamed of playing in my hometown," the quarterback said. "I always wanted to come here. I always knew deep down I would."
Still has family here
He still has family and friends in Youngstown, however, and attended the high school graduation party of Michael Cleveland, his old center with the Bulldogs, this spring.
And if Stull sees some action in Pitt's Sept. 24 game with Youngstown State, the Penguins might have their own success in the '90s to blame.
"They love football there in Youngstown," said Bill Sr. "It really had an effect on Billy. He loved YSU. & quot;