Sometimes, there really is no place like home.
One of the consistent things that Pat Narduzzi has done since he’s come to Pitt has been to preach the value of playing in your city, in front of your friends and family, to top-level WPIAL athletes. Check out the sales pitch:
It hasn’t always been an easy sell. The increase in recruiting technology has made it easier for schools to recruit nationwide, which means the competition for local players has grown. But Pitt has a pretty good track record. From Dan Marino to Darrelle Revis, Pitt has been able to turn local high school stars into local NFL stars.
One of those players along the way was tight end Dorin Dickerson. Dickerson was the Class AAA player of the year coming out of West Allegheny in 2005 and was rated as one the top college prospects in Pennsylvania. Dickerson was recruited nationally, yet decided on Pitt. Unlike stars like Marino, Dickerson’s six-year NFL career has been spent bouncing around from city to city, team to team, and at times, paycheck to paycheck. That experience has led him to appreciate his time playing in Pittsburgh even more.
“At that age, I’m pretty surprised I made that decision,” he recalled. “There’s so much stuff being thrown at you. I was being recruited by everybody across the country — USC, Florida, a bunch of different schools — but to stay at home was probably the best decision I’ve made in my entire life. I love the city of Pittsburgh. To me, it’s a top-three football city in the country.”
What makes Pittsburgh great, Dickerson said, is not just its passion for the game. The city has a passion for its own. It’s one of the reason Dickerson makes his home in the area and hope that one day, his kids can experience the same love from the city that he has received.
“People know you, people respect you and you make a lot of great relationships,” he said. “Pittsburgh sticks together. It’s not that big of a city. I’ve been around the whole country. Staying at home just creates more opportunity for you. … The biggest positive was my family being there every game. You take that for granted now that I’m older and I have my own family now and hopefully one day, my kid will make the decision to go to Pitt.”
While the national attention on WPIAL prospects made more competition for Pitt when it comes to keeping players at home, it has come with some added benefits, as well. Dickerson said that when he played, Western Pennsylvania wasn’t thought of as a place where a lot of top-tier football players came from. Now, that’s not the case.
“Guys just didn’t know where other guys came from,” he said. “Now with social media, you can find anything that you want. (Western Pennsylvania) is getting a lot more notoriety from things like 7-on-7 camps across the country. You have kids like Lamont Wade, people know he’s from Pittsburgh. Then they look at this other kid from Clairton or a kid from Central Catholic and think.… It’s getting more notoriety now than it ever has been before.”
Dickerson was inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame in June. Just the presence of that institution, which is housed at the Heinz History Center alongside the other giants of Pittsburgh’s history, is a testament to the talented football players from the area and the passion that exists amongst its fans.
“It was awesome,” Dickerson said. “It’s a prestigious group of athletes that I was inducted to. Just looking back, now that I am 28 years old and it has been 10 years since I was in high school, now it’s the time where I’m can look and say, ‘Wow, I actually did all that stuff.’ I was thinking that I did all that stuff when I was 17 years old. It was pretty crazy.”
Dickerson’s 2015 season with the Tennessee Titans ended before it got started with an Achilles injury. That’s behind him, but at 28 and after a year out of football, he’s realistic about what the future may hold.
“I’m doing pretty good, just working out and staying in shape,” he said. “I feel really good. If a team calls, I’m ready to go.”
If no one calls, he has some other things lined up, included some opportunities to stay involved with the game.
“One of my ex-teammates that I played with in Houston and Tennessee, Bernard Pollard, he created his own business of evaluating and scouting high school players,” Dickerson said. “I’m going to be overseeing the wide receivers and the tight ends through his business. I’m just going to stay ready and see what happens.”
I caught up with Dickerson about some other Pitt topics, rapid-fire style:
“I actually went down to the facility for the first time in a while a couple months ago. Just the stuff he’s done down there, it’s all about the alumni. It’s all about the past players. He really, really does a good job with that. Everywhere I went — the locker room, the weight room, the whole facility — was geared toward the history of University of Pittsburgh football. It’s awesome. He’s doing a great job and we’re all excited about it. … I think Narduzzi is on the right track towards winning a championship.”
“I can’t wait for that one. It’ll be a statement game. There’s a lot of talking that’s been going on for the past couple of years. That’ll always go on. It’ll be one for the books. I can’t wait to see that game. I have a lot of friends that are Penn State fans or went to Penn State, so I can’t wait to put it in their face when we win.”
“It brings back tradition. It just looks better. That is Pitt. It’s what Pitt is about. That’s how it got started. I can’t wait to see it out there this year.”