By Sean Conboy (DC'08)

For nearly an hour, Carnegie Mellon running back Troy Witt has been sitting in front of his locker. Eyes closed. Headphones on, listening to Jimi Hendrix wail on his guitar. In the past, Witt (TPR’16) has tried the Sports Psychology 101 pregame routine—visualizing an ESPN highlight performance on the football field. But those guys in the other locker room know how to visualize, too.

Today, that foe is Allegheny College. No doubt, the team’s defensive players are visualizing the tiny 5’8”, 175-pound Tartan keeping his head down just as he is about to scamper through a hole. The end they foresee is driving their shoulder pads into Witt’s chinstrap so hard that they stop him in his tracks before he collapses.

When Witt finally takes off the headphones, he hears chatter filling the locker room. An assistant coach says something about blocking schemes. One of Witt’s teammates comes over and performs a wild-eyed, pro-wrestling rant about how they’re going to do unspeakable things to Allegheny College.

For Witt, though, motivation comes more from proving the doubters wrong. Those whispers have always been around.

  • When his mother drove him to sign up for Pop Warner youth football, but only after the 10-year-old boy literally cried to his protective parents during the previous season to let him play. Our baby boy could get hurt.
  • When he tried out for his suburban Pittsburgh high school team: Why bother? You’re too small. Witt would go on to lead Seneca Valley High School to its first playoff berth in decades.
  • When CMU came calling: Not big enough for college ball.

As he gets ready to take the field in the Tartans’ 2013 home opener, his teammates slam their fists against each other’s shoulder pads. But no matter how much adrenaline is pumping, Witt knows that nobody on either team will trample anybody. The reality is that 22 men will line up for each play; they’ll collide, feel pain, feel joy, feel heartbreak.

Witt isn’t afraid to admit he feels something else before the game begins: scared.

That’s why he used a Sharpie to scrawl his battle cry on the tape wrapped around his calloused hands. The words calm him. And for the next two hours, he’ll run fearlessly for 103 yards. He’ll also score two touchdowns.

It was near the game’s end, with the Tartans comfortably ahead, when any lingering whispers were silenced. Witt had the ball with a linebacker homing in. Witt could have scampered out of bounds. Instead, he chose to absorb another hit to gain a few extra yards. The tackler was greeted with Witt’s stiff arm. Perhaps the opponent even caught a glimpse of Witt’s left hand, with the battle cry still legible on dirt-stained tape:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for God is with me.

At season’s end, Witt was the Tartans’ leading rusher and third leading receiver. For the 2014 season, his battle cry won’t change.