Kevin Gorman: Pitt's Dorin Dickerson makes Dash into pro wrestling
Dorin Dickerson had always dreamed of playing professional football, but he never imagined that his NFL career would be over before he turned 30.
As the former West Allegheny and Pitt All-American was embracing one post-playing career as a weekend host on 93.7 The Fan (KDKA-FM), another came calling.
"I got a call from Jim Ross out of nowhere," Dickerson said of the WWE commentator and talent relations executive. "He was like, 'We love your background. We know you've been doing radio. Would you like a tryout?'
"I figured I had nothing to lose. I didn't even take a minute to think. I was like, 'Absolutely, I'll be there. Even if I'm out of shape.' "
Dickerson invested in the WWF as a kid, collecting 200 action figures, renting every pay-per-view event he could watch and emulating signature moves on his buddies by jumping off couches.
But his focus had always been on football, which runs deep in his family bloodlines. (Dorin's uncle, Ron Dickerson, is former head coach at Temple, and cousin, Ron Jr., played at Arkansas and for the Kansas City Chiefs).
After starring at tight end at Pitt, Dickerson was drafted in the seventh round by Houston in 2010. He played wide receiver, tight end and fullback for the Texans, Patriots, Bills, Lions and Titans, staying in the NFL long enough to earn a pension but not as long as expected.
"It's very tough. I thought I had a plan," Dickerson said. "There's a lot of fantasy dreams for life after football. But I bounced around. I didn't make millions of dollars. It led to radio, and I really enjoy that. I watch these games and think, 'I could still be out there. I'm still strong, still athletic. I can't believe my athletic ability is going to be wasted.' Then this opportunity came along."
So, as he leaves Wednesday for a four-day tryout at WWE's Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., Dickerson is preparing to say goodbye to Scorin' Dorin and introduce himself as Rico Dash.
"I want to tell the story about the NFL and my football career, but that guy is Dorin Dickerson," Dickerson said. "He's gone. That guy was a football player. This Rico Dash is a whole 'nother character that nobody has ever seen.
"I want to be a good guy and a bad guy. I want to have an alter ego — good one day, bad the next. Rico's the good guy. Dash is the crazy type, where you don't know what's going to happen."
This is where Dickerson talks about his love for acting, characters and doing impressions and how those traits and his radio experience prepared him for the 90-second promotion he will have to shoot during his WWE tryout.
"The more I think about it," Dickerson said, "I'm like, maybe this is something I should have been doing the whole time."
But Dickerson realizes how his football career played a role in his path to the ring. Professional wrestling embraces football players for their physiques and physicality but also their ability to follow the script like a playbook and add a dose of personality.
"People would say, 'You'd be great in the WWE.' It was something I never really honestly thought about," Dickerson said. "The more I thought about it, it was like, 'They were right.' They want former college football and NFL players in the WWE. They love African-American athletes, too. There's a lack of African-Americans in the WWE. That's one thing I have going for me."
Another is his Pitt ties. Matt Bloom, the head trainer at WWE's Performance Center, was an offensive lineman at Pitt from 1992-94. A rising star in the NXT ranks is Dan Matha, who played offensive tackle for the Panthers.
Dickerson trained with James Bryant, a former Miami and Louisville linebacker who played for the Pittsburgh Power and is the younger brother of former Pitt safety Sam Bryant. Turns out, the Bryants are his third cousins, twice removed, on the side of Dickerson's late mother, Pam.
Dickerson lost 3 percent body fat through high-intensity boxing workouts and is now a chiseled 6-foot-2, 245 pounds for his conditioning test, which he likened to the NFL Scouting Combine "on steroids."
Where Dickerson concentrated on his agility for the tryout instead of working on wrestling, he does have plans for a signature finishing move: the Panther Bomb, where he will jump off the top rope turnbuckle for a power punch.
"It's like a LeBron dunk," Dickerson said, "but I'm going to bring it down with my hand and slam dunk it on somebody's head."
Dickerson has an appeal that makes you believe his foray into wrestling will be a success, as much for his charisma as his athleticism. He's looking forward to freedoms football didn't allow.
"The WWE is a business, but you have to market yourself," Dickerson said. "It's you throwing every pass, making every catch, scoring every touchdown. The more I can market myself, the more I can succeed in this business. I'm going to sell myself as much as possible. This isn't a team sport anymore. Now I can be about me."
Or Rico Dash, the former football star about to drop a Panther Bomb on the wrestling world.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.