The Fizz has returned from a splendid trip to Charlotte, NC for the 2022 ACC Kickoff. Of course, we covered SU and spoke with Dino Babers, Mikel Jones, Matthew Bergeron, and Garrett Shrader. We also had the opportunity to chat with athletes that SU will meet on the gridiron later this fall. One of those players is SirVocea Dennis, a star linebacker for ACC rival Pittsburgh and a Salt City native.
Dennis was a criminally underrated two-star recruit out of Christian Brothers Academy. In case you didn’t know, CBA is a stone’s throw away from SU and the Dome. Considering the fact that Dennis is a 315 guy, he grew up cheering for the Orange.
“Growing up in the area, if you weren’t an SU fan there was a problem.”
The local product had offers from Air Force, Western Michigan, and UMASS amongst a few other mid-majors. One offer stood above the others though, and that was his lone power five opportunity courtesy of Pat Narduzzi and the Panthers.
The veteran head coach in the Steel City saw something in the overlooked Dennis that nobody else at the P5 level saw. There’s a funny story behind Narduzzi’s choice to offer the unheralded recruit.
Once Dennis received that offer from the Pittsburgh head coach he knew what his next move would be. The high school quarterback and defensive back had been committed to Air Force for a year but in February of 2019, right before the second national signing day, Dennis flipped to the Panthers. The former Brother probably would’ve played under center over in Colorado but instead trusted Narduzzi and his evaluation to play elsewhere on the field.
“He definitely thought I could be a linebacker. What sold me was that he said I could be an athletic linebacker. He said, you’re not the biggest, you’re not the strongest, I understand that, I know that. So what he sold me on was definitely our scheme and definitely how our linebackers looked in the past. Once he did that I understood I could be something special.”
Narduzzi possesses an extremely adept defensive mind. The Connecticut native has been leading defenses or defensive position groups since 1993. At Michigan State, the 2013 Broyles Award winner formed a culture of stingy defenses which paved the way for the Spartans to claim a pair of Big Ten titles between 2011 and 2014. Narduzzi brought that brilliance with him to Pittsburgh and has changed the culture.
The track record speaks for itself and was the biggest reason why Dennis took Narduzzi up on the gamble to potentially develop into a terror in the second level of the Pitt defense. Fast forward from 2019 to 2022 and now the former CBA star is one of the biggest names in the ACC.
In 2020, Dennis broke out onto the scene and emerged as a real threat at linebacker after mainly playing on special teams in his first season. The rising senior compiled 57 tackles in the shortened season and lived rent free in opponents’ backfields. The Syracuse native tallied 14.5 tackles for loss which was good for third in the conference. Dennis’ sophomore output earned him third team All-ACC honors.
The linebacker up’d his game one year later. Dennis started all 13 games of Pittsburgh’s 2021 season and increased his tackle total to 87 with about ten tackles for loss and four sacks. Coaches and the media took notice picking Dennis for second team All-ACC.
So now the two-time all conference performer gets set for his encore season ahead of what could be a productive professional career in years to come. Not too shabby for a former two-star recruit huh? So what was Syracuse in this recruitment? How did SU miss on a talent like this that was literally right in its backyard? Well chalk it up to an evaluation error from the staff.
“Syracuse was really looking at me for quarterback. I played quarterback in high school but that wasn’t something I was looking forward to on the next level. They knew that, I told them that and they just weren’t interested anywhere else. That led my recruitment to go elsewhere and landed me at Pitt.”
It may not exactly be fair to say that Syracuse missed here honestly, that’s just how terrific Narduzzi is at identifying defensive talent. The eighth year head coach spent six years as a linebackers coach in stints at Rhode Island and Northern Illinois. On top of that, Narduzzi claims twelve years of defensive coordinator experience, the guy knows the in’s and out’s of defense and what kind of athletes he needs to succeed. Dino Babers and company simply didn’t have the intel and eyeballs to project what Dennis could be in the middle of a defense.
So a big “miss” if you want to label it as that on the recruiting trail. Last season the wound was soured when Dennis and the Panthers completed an ACC Coastal Division-winning regular season with a 31-14 victory in the Dome on senior day. The former CNY football star had had success on Ernie Davis Legends Field before and made the team he used to cheer for pay for not giving him an opportunity to suit up in Orange.
“It was amazing. I hadn’t played in the Dome since my senior year (of high school). My freshman year at Pitt I wasn’t able to travel to the game. Knowing that was my first time to travel back to the Dome it was just amazing. Then winning on top of that, even better.”
Despite not getting the offer Dennis may have always wanted, he maintains that there’s no bad blood between the two parties.
So there you have it, Narduzzi nabbed on a gem on the recruiting trail from right under Syracuse’s nose. Dennis is one of the many elite linebackers in the ACC in 2022 and has a chance to parlay a big senior year into a chance at the pro ranks. On top of being one of the top second level defenders in the country, the former Salt City star may also stake claim to one of the best names in the nation. Here’s the story behind Dennis’ first name:
Syracuse travels to the Steel City to meet what will probably be a top 25 Pittsburgh team on November 5th. This is a game SU will need to have if it wants to make a bowl game. However, our John Eads selected the Panthers to win the CC Coastal for the second year in a row. Safe to say the late season matchup will be uphill for the Orange and Dennis is a big reason why.