Undersized and underrecruited coming out of high school, Pittsburgh linebacker SirVocea Dennis has overcome the odds to become a player that will likely hear his name during the 2023 NFL Draft. After seeing limited time as a true freshman, Dennis claimed a starting role on the Panthers’ defense and never looked back, pacing the team in tackles in his final two seasons. He would finish his career with 232 total tackles, 36.0 tackles for loss, 15.0 sacks, and two interceptions.
One of those two interceptions was Dennis’ career-defining play in an upset victory over the Clemson Tigers during the Panthers’ eventual ACC Championship run.
While Dennis built an impressive resume at Pitt, it took a lot of perseverance to even get there.
“My recruiting wasn’t all the best up in upstate New York and I played quarterback. So, they didn’t really think I could play any defense or linebacker or anything like that. So, I wanna say after a couple of games into my senior year, I decided to go prep.”
Dennis shared that after being recommended some prep schools by a football coach at Dartmouth College, he chose to attend The Peddie School in New Jersey. The Peddie School, which competes in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL), has a rich history of producing NFL-level talents such as Jahan Dotson and John Mitchie III, both of whom attended Peddie School, and Dion Lewis, who attended Blair Academy. Knowing that the league has produced successful football players further influenced Dennis’ decision to attend The Peddie School and prepared him well for his college football career.
“I just really wanted to showcase what I could do on the defensive side.”
And Dennis did just that. In his one year at Peddie, he was named the MAPL Defensive Player of the Year, first team All-MAPL Linebacker, and also received the Maurice P. Shuman Football Award, annually presented to Peddie’s outstanding football player.
Even after the stellar season, Dennis’ future plans still hit a bump in the road.
“I was committed to the Air Force Academy, but I realized I couldn’t go there due to a peanut allergy. After knowing that, I opened up my recruitment.”
That’s when Pitt finally came into the picture.
“Coach Narduzzi came into the school and he was actually looking for two other guys. My athletic director asked him if he knew who I was. He said no, showed him my film, everything like that. He brought me in, talked to him for a little bit, and then he asked if I could dunk. I said, of course, I could dunk. I showed him about two regular dunks and he wasn’t really impressed. Then, I showed him me dunking over two people and he was like, oh, okay. Alright.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Dennis not only excels on the field but also in the classroom. Not many athletes coming out of high school can say that they have the grades to be in talks with an Ivy League school like Dartmouth or a service academy like Air Force. Dennis, a former National Honor Society member in high school, seamlessly translates that intelligence over to the football field.
“It’s a cerebral game, man. Once you understand that and once you really understand how it moves around certain pieces and certain players, you can pick up on the game pretty well. And then, if you pick up on a playbook and understand your assignment you can just play fast and rally after that. You won’t even worry about what you have to do. And that’s the way I like to play. Just like knowing my assignment. Knowing my alignment and just go fast.”
Dennis’ continual self-improvement mindset shone through in his college career, as evidenced by his progression from Third-Team All-ACC as a sophomore to Second-Team as a junior, culminating in a First-Team All-ACC selection during his senior year.
The ability Dennis showed at Pittsburgh was on full display during the Senior Bowl, where he put together a solid week of practice and even made an interception during the RB/LB 1on1 drills.
When I asked Dennis about the rep, he further cemented his self-improving mentality.
“I want to say the rep before, I had bad eyes. And then that rep, I just really wanted to focus on my technique and fundamentals with cover skills. So, I went in that rep, really focused, really locked in, and I made a play.”
The primary criticism of Sirvocea Dennis as he prepares to enter the professional ranks is his size. At the Senior Bowl, Dennis weighed in at a modest 218 pounds and measured at 6003, but he sees this as an opportunity to turn his size into an advantage.
“I feel like I’m a twitchy, aggressive, downhill guy. So in certain situations where alignment tries to be too aggressive or powerful, I know how to slip a block. I know how to get around, how to use my speed, use my range, and certain things.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in dire need of help in the middle of their defense, and Sirvocea Dennis could potentially fill that void. While he may not be the flashiest player in terms of physical attributes, his consistent, intelligent, and disciplined style of play could make him a valuable long-term starter in the NFL. If the Steelers pass on selecting a linebacker in the early rounds, it’s worth keeping an eye on Dennis in the middle rounds as he could be the next Panther to join the professional ranks by simply walking through the opposite set of double doors at the shared South Side practice facility.