Gorman: Patience pays off for Pitt's Dickerson
Dorin Dickerson admits there were dark days, moments when the former U.S. Army All-American wondered why he wasn't living up to the hype that followed him from West Allegheny to Pitt.
Dickerson bounced from position to position before finally finding a home — or, as Pitt coaches like to say, a niche — with the Panthers. His athleticism allows for lining up at tight end, fullback, in the slot or split wide, and for Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti to make matchup nightmares.
"Coach Cignetti will put some plays in," Dickerson said, "and I'm like, 'That's not fair.' "
But life's not fair, as Dickerson has learned.
He came to the Panthers as a consensus top-100 prospect, the star signee of Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt's first full recruiting class. He moved from receiver to tailback to outside linebacker before playing tight end.
Dickerson started to doubt himself.
"Anybody would have gone through that. I asked, Why• Why?" Dickerson said. "I just had to look in the mirror. Working out, I was always good at that. But I had to get smarter in the film room. I had to work on my blocking. I had to go out there and want to practice."
Yet Wannstedt knows Dickerson could have gone anywhere in the country, and the coach felt obligated to find a role for someone who took such a leap of faith in picking the Panthers. Then again, you just can't keep a 6-foot-2, 230-pounder with 4.37-second 40-yard-dash speed and a 42-inch vertical jump who can bench-press 225 pounds 30 times on the bench.
"I remember sitting in there with his mom and dad, and he was a linebacker on his way to maybe a tight end. He wasn't playing, and it was a struggle," Wannstedt said. "My only response — and it was as sincere as if I was talking to my own son — was, 'You've just got to believe that I'm trying to do the right thing for you. You're the type of player we want in this program, you're a special guy and you've got talent. I know things haven't worked to this point. I don't know if they will, but we want it to work and we're going to do everything we can to try to make it work.'"
Give Cignetti credit for recognizing Dickerson's versatility and exploiting it. Scorin' Dorin leads Pitt with 39 catches and 10 receiving touchdowns, a single-season school record for tight ends and tops in the nation at the position. Most importantly, the No. 8 Panthers are 8-1 going into Saturday's game against Notre Dame and positioned to win the Big East championship.
If Dickerson could have one play back, it would be the final third-and-goal pass thrown his way in the lone loss, at North Carolina State. Bill Stull's pass was high, but Dickerson got his hands on it before absorbing a big blow and blacking out. The hit broke his chinstrap and knocked his helmet off. He fell face-first onto the helmet, fracturing one front tooth and knocking out the other, breaking his nose and sustaining a concussion.
"There was a big dent in the ground," he said. "It was pretty rough."
But nothing compared to his star-crossed career.
Dickerson looks like a lock to become a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end. He's also a bona fide All-America candidate and has caught the imagination of pro scouts. His stock should soar after the NFL combine.
"I feel real good right now about it," Dickerson said. "I wanted to stick it out. I felt like I would be a stronger person if I stayed here. This is where I wanted to go, and I didn't want to leave.
"I knew I had it in me to be the player I want to be."
The player everyone always thought he was.