SirVocea Dennis was headed to the Air Force Academy. It was his best option.
After a couple of serious injuries stole his senior season at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, New York, he decided to take a year and spend it rebuilding his profile at The Peddie School in New Jersey instead. And he would commit to Air Force.
An official offer from Syracuse never arrived, as the Orange only wanted him as a potential quarterback, but he wasn’t really too broken up about it not receiving an offer from his hometown school — his mother’s favorite team.
Pitt was a school that had long held Dennis’s attention, but it didn’t appear that Pitt was interested. Until he surprisingly flipped his commitment from Air Force to Pitt on Feb. 2, 2019, fulfilling a long-held goal to play ACC football.
Nearly four years later, Dennis is a team captain — leading Pitt in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks as a legitimate NFL prospect — and semifinalist for the Butkus Award.
“It’s big (being a semifinalist) in the sense of this is my fifth year playing linebacker,” Dennis said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “It’s huge. I’m not the biggest linebacker, I’m not the strongest or fastest, but it’s what I bring to the game. And I’m glad someone recognizes that on the national level.”
The Butkus Award is given to college football’s best linebacker. Dennis, who didn’t start playing until his prep season at the Peddie School, has attributed his continued growth into an All-ACC linebacker to Pitt’s coaching staff — and himself, of course. But with the way Pitt’s staff has instilled in him the confidence to play the position, setting him up on and off the field, he’s thankful.
It’s been of mutual benefit. Pitt’s defense wouldn’t be where it is today without his steady presence at Mike linebacker either.
Dennis has racked up 58 tackles (27 solo), 8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and two pass breakups while serving as the ‘quarterback’ of Pitt’s defense this season — marshaling a young, inexperienced linebacking corps.
“(Dennis is) definitely a leader in our defense,” fellow captain Deslin Alexandre said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “He’s our Mike, he makes all of our calls, everything goes through him, so Voss has had tremendous growth for us.”
Dennis has filled a variety of roles on Pitt’s defense this season, grading out as Pitt’s second highest-rated defender, according to PPF. Behind only Calijah Kancey.
Dennis has been able to get after opposing quarterbacks, racking up 23 pressures, 11 hurries and six quarterback hits — boasting a 15.8%-win rate. But he’s been even better against the run, recording 27 tackles (20 solo) on designed run plays, missing just three potential tackles. He’s also credited for 20 run stops.
And while Dennis is a vocal leader, his infectious personality and positive attitude serving to uplift his teammates on and off the field, a flip is switched on game day. Alexandre said that Dennis is smart — very smart. He knows what an opposing offense is going to do before the snap.
If there’s a player on Pitt’s defense to emulate, according to secondary coach Archie Collins, it’s Dennis.
“Voss is a great leader,” Collins said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “Guys respect him on the attitude he brings to practice each time. They follow him because of his athleticism, his drive, his effort that he brings each and every day of practice.”
Dennis is a leader. The quarterback of the defense — a position that he prefers way, way more than his original quarterback position at CBA, since he’s the one laying the hits now instead of taking them — has also had a lot of great teachers, too.
One of those teachers was CBA head coach Casey Brown. And he imparted upon a young Dennis how football is far more than just a game that he’d fallen in love with.
“Coach Brown, he made it very — he made me understand that this game is more than just a game,” Dennis said. “It’s really about being a young adult and coming into yourself and doing anything you want to do.
“A quote he always used was, ‘Use football, don’t let football use you.'”
It’s a motto that Dennis has since lived by. He’s used football as a way to grow into the man he is today, on and off the gridiron. And while he’s grown into a young man who has aspirations on and off the field (possibly a lawyer, possibly a football coach), his immediate future is football. And Saturday against Syracuse may be the last chance for the Dennis family to see him play at Pitt.
“Of course, I love Syracuse week,” Dennis said.” It’s not even about the game really. It’s about my family coming to the game, no matter the location, and it’s just a chance for everyone to see me play against my hometown team.”
As a kid who grew up in Syracuse, he admittedly wasn’t a huge ‘Cuse fan. His mother Corliss was, and he definitely had fun attending games with his mother at the Carrier Dome. But he was a fan of the Big East — the old era of college football. He loved watching the rivalry games, including games against Pitt.
Syracuse didn’t offer Dennis, but Pitt did. Pitt was Dennis’s only Power Five offer, as a two-star recruit. It’s fair to say it’s worked out well for Pitt and Dennis since he officially committed way back in February of 2019.