SirVocea Dennis looked across the green turf of Gateway High School’s field Tuesday afternoon, pleased to see young boys playing seven-on-seven with unbridled joy at the Nike Football Camp.
Yet, Pitt’s senior linebacker, a counselor at the camp, understands the game he plays on a much higher level has turned into a “wild” ride for players and coaches.
Name, image and likeness opportunities and the NCAA transfer portal have changed the rules, altered rosters (including the one where he resides), affected recruiting and created temptations.
How wild did it get for Dennis this offseason? He said he deflected offers from two schools that tried to entice him to transfer.
“I had a couple (contacts),” he said. “I wasn’t worried about it. I’m here now, so…”
Dennis declined to identify the schools, and for a good reason, he said. “That’s an NCAA violation,” he said of schools contacting him, even though his name never appeared in the portal.
“I respectfully told them that what they were trying to do is illegal and it could, actually, ruin my eligibility. If they wanted to talk to me, I would have to have been in the portal already.”
So, why did he stay when so many others across the nation have changed addresses, including former Pitt wide receiver Jordan Addison, who took his Biletnikoff Award to USC.
“For me, the reason is I created a bit of legacy here,” said Dennis, who earned second-team All-ACC recognition last season. “I’m almost done with my degree (criminal law), which is the first thing I want to check off my list.
“Right now, I want to keep the main thing the main thing and that’s Pitt football. I have a lot of friends on this team, a lot of family on this team and a lot of young guys who look up to me. If I made that move, how would that look in their eyes? It was a lot that came into play, but mostly it was my love for Pitt football.”
He said he feels a sense of loyalty to Pitt, the first Power 5 school to offer him a chance for a free education.
“So, why not stay?” he said.
Which brings Dennis’ legacy to what probably will be his fourth and final season at Pitt. He has successfully played the middle and money (outside) linebacker positions, and last season he led the team with 87 tackles, mainly lining up in the middle. 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 allow him to choose.
“They asked me what I wanted to play,” he said. “I gave my answer, and that’s for everyone to see on Sept. 1 (the opener against West Virginia). I’m not going to reveal the answer because it might actually change. That’s how much I like all three positions.”
Like many athletes, Dennis has negotiated NIL deals, with the help of his agent, Pitt law school graduate Alex Guminski. Through social media, he will promote the Athletic Recovery Lounge in Braddock Hills, a business where athletes can recover from their workouts, and Payne Glasses, a local eyewear company. In exchange, he can sample their services free of charge.
Dennis said he spoke to Addison as his transfer saga was unfolding.
“He’s doing the best he can for himself,” Dennis said. “None of the guys mind it. 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 just go and play football without him. What I said to him was make the best decision for you and your family, not just your college (football) career, but education-wise.”
As a returning starter and difference maker on defense — remember the intercepted shovel pass in the Clemson game? — Dennis has sat down with Narduzzi several times this offseason to discuss 2022 and his role as a senior leader. It’s a responsibility Dennis does not take lightly.
“I want to be a captain. I told him that. He gave me the tools and things I need to do so. It’s not foreign to me,” said Dennis the son of two US Army veterans, SirVantis and Corliss.
SirVantis Dennis earned a Purple Heart when he was shot and wounded in Iraq.
“Being in that light and that leadership role, it’s just common,” SirVocea said. “As soon as the season ended, (teammates) looked at me to be that next leader. I embraced it, and I’m still embracing it and working hard for it.”
Dennis is eagerly awaiting the start of training camp in early August, but he also doesn’t want to wish away his college days — or the summer.
“I want the season to hurry up just because I love the game of football,” he said, “but I’m trying to take the relaxing side of it just because this could possibly be my last collegiate season. I just want to take everything in.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .