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Pitt Football

The Smartest Linebacker Around: Pitt’s SirVocea Dennis’s Rise to Leadership



The depth, or lack thereof, of Pitt’s linebacking corps is a hot topic as spring practice has begun down at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side. With last seasons’ starters (Cam Bright at Star and Phil Campbell III at Money) gone and super-reserve Johnny Petrishen gone, SirVocea Dennis is the last line of defense.

While he’s only one man, some sort of solace can be taken in the fact that Dennis is the smartest guy in the defensive two-deep. No, really, ask Pat Narduzzi about it.

“SirVocea is maybe one of the smartest guys on the defense, if not the smartest guy on the defense,” Narduzzi said Monday. “He’s great. We can challenge him mentally with a bunch of different stuff. Obviously, he’s going to be huge in coaching the rest of the guys up and coaching their meetings.”

Dennis has already been a coach on the field, Narduzzi said, and it’s only carried over into the locker room, the meeting room and across all facets of the linebacking corps at Pitt. However, Dennis isn’t alone when it comes to smart football players occupying the linebacker spots in Pittsburgh.

“At this point, I try to be the smartest guy on the defense, but everybody in the linebacker room is up there with me,” Dennis said Monday. “It’s always a little competition, and that’s good competition.”

Dennis occupies the Mike linebacker position at Pitt, right in the heart of a high-powered, high-energy unit, and broke out as a sophomore in 2020. In the last two seasons, he’s racked up 137 tackles (74 solo), 24 tackles for loss, eight sacks, an interception returned for a touchdown and a fumble recovery. He led Pitt in tackles (82) and tackles for loss (10) in 2021.

Despite back-to-back All-ACC campaigns, Dennis spent the winter workouts crafting his body and perfecting his discipline in preparation for the 2022 season. And without guys like Bright and Petrishen, Dennis has made the difficult transition into more of a vocal leader in the room.

“It’s different and weird because when they were in the room, I was considered the young guy,” Dennis said. “Now I’m, I think, the oldest guy in the room. It was definitely weird for me, the change, but those guys have been in the room, they’re my brothers, and they’re coming along.

“Obviously we’re young, not too experienced,” Dennis said. “But they’re eager to learn, and I think they’re willing to get things down and put in the work.”

It is a very young, very inexperienced linebackers room this spring, one hit hard by graduation and the transfer portal, but Dennis is already excited to help mold the moving pieces into a unit that resembles last seasons in closeness and production.

One of the new guys, who’s expected to fill the Money linebacker role, is Notre Dame transfer Shayne Simon. And while, like many in the room, he doesn’t have a wealth of starting experience coming out of South Bend, Dennis is sure of Simon’s fit in the defense.

“Shayne, coming from Notre Dame, very smart,” Dennis said. “That guy is amazing. He talks verbiage well, he picks up on things very quickly. Shayne is a good addition to our linebacker room.”

With guys like Simon and early enrollee Marquan Pope, a three-star linebacker out of Texas who Dennis has taken under his wing, the expectation is to play fast and hit hard. It’s the trademark of playing in Narduzzi’s defense, especially in the hybrid linebacker roles, and Dennis is the perfect fit to lead the unit. At 6-foot-1, 230-pounds, he isn’t the biggest guy, but he’s quick, he plays hard and he’s one of the smartest guys you’ll find.

“Being in coach Narduzzi’s defense, we like to be aggressive,” Dennis said. “That’s what we hang our hats on. Once you turn on the tape and film, it’s like, this is the standard you have to live up to. And those guys have seen it.”

While the statistics rolls in as fast, hard-hitting linebackers in Pitt’s defensive system, Dennis wants to instill the will to win above all else. He’ll do whatever it takes to bring home a win, and he wants the entire linebacking corps to play the exact same way.

Dennis wasn’t the highest-rated recruit out of high school, only given a two-star rating and sub-3,000th national ranking, but he’s built himself into one of the top linebackers in the ACC — and he’ll have the chance to showcase himself as one of the best linebackers in college football in 2022.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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9 months ago

Spot on, another Aaron Donald in the making. Under recruited, over achiever. Still think he was as surprised as the Clemson qb when he made the interception for touchdown this past season.


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