SirVocea Dennis looked across the green turf of Gateway High School’s field on Tuesday afternoon and was delighted to see young boys play seven-on-seven at Nike Football Camp with unbridled joy.
But Pitt’s senior linebacker, a counselor at camp, understands that the game, which he’s playing at a much higher level, has become a “wild” ride for players and coaches.
Name, picture and likeness opportunities and the NCAA transfer portal have changed the rules, altered rosters (including which one he resides in), hampered recruitment and created temptation.
How wild has Dennis got this offseason? He said he turned down offers from two schools that tried to persuade him to switch.
“I had a few[contacts],” he said. “I wasn’t worried about that. I’m here now, so…”
Dennis declined to identify the schools, and with good reason, he said. “It’s an NCAA violation,” he said of schools that contacted him, though his name never appeared on the portal.
“I have respectfully told them that what they are trying to do is illegal and could actually ruin my eligibility to participate. If they wanted to talk to me, I should have been in the portal already.”
So why did he stay when so many others across the country have changed addresses, including former Pitt wide receiver Jordan Addison, who took his Biletnikoff award to USC.
“For me, the reason is because I created a little bit of legacy here,” said Dennis, who received second-team All-ACC recognition last season. “I’m almost done with my degree (criminal law) so I want to tick that off first on my list.
“Right now I want the main thing to stay the main thing and that’s Pitt Football. I have a lot of friends on this team, a lot of family members on this team and a lot of young people who look up to me. If I made that move, how would it look in your eyes? A lot came into play, but most of all it was my love of Pitt Football.”
He said he feels a sense of loyalty to Pitt, the first Power 5 school to offer him a chance at a free education.
“So why not stay?” he said.
Which brings Dennis’ legacy to what will likely be his fourth and final season in Pitt. He has successfully played the middle and money (wing) linebacker positions, and last season he led the team with 87 tackles, picking mostly at center. He also contributed 9 ½ tackles for a loss, four sacks, a blocked field goal, a fumble recovery and an interception.
He said he likes both positions and coach Pat Narduzzi has told Dennis he will give him the choice.
“They asked me what I wanted to play,” he said. “I’ve given my answer and that’s for everyone to see on September 1 (the opening game against West Virginia). I won’t reveal the answer because it could actually change. I like all three positions that much.”
Like many athletes, Dennis negotiated ZERO deals with the help of his agent Alex Guminski, a graduate of Pitt Law School. Through social media, he will promote Braddock Hills Athletic Recovery Lounge, a business where athletes can recover from their workouts, and Payne Glasses, a local eyewear company. In return, he can test their services for free.
Dennis said he spoke to Addison as his transfer saga unfolded.
“He’s doing his best for himself,” Dennis said. “It doesn’t bother any of the boys. He did what he did. We thank him for the time we had with him.”
“He’s a great guy. We love him. But you know, we’re not mad. We’ll just go play football without him. What I said to him was make the best decision for you and your family, not only for your college (football) career, but for your education.
As a returning starter and difference maker on defense — remember the intercepted scoop pass in the Clemson game? – Dennis has sat down with Narduzzi several times this offseason to discuss 2022 and his role as a leader. Dennis does not take this responsibility lightly.
“I want to be a captain. I have told him. He gave me the tools and things I need to do this. I’m no stranger to that,” said Dennis, the son of US Army veterans SirVantis and Corliss.
SirVantis Dennis received a Purple Heart when he was shot and wounded in Iraq.
“To be in that light and leadership is just common,” SirVocea said. “Once the season was over, (teammates) looked to me like I was the next leader. I embraced it and I still embrace it and work hard for it.”
Dennis is excited to start training camp in early August, but he also doesn’t want to wish his college days – and summer – away.
“I want the season to move quickly just because I love the game of football,” he said, “but I’m trying to take the relaxed side of it just because this could potentially be my last college season.” I just want to record everything.”