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Dinkins makes strong impact at Pitt's camp

Kevin Gorman
| Sunday, July 6, 2003

Walt Harris introduced Darnell "D.J." Dinkins to the high school prospects at Pitt's skills camp as a New York Giants tight end who overcame his own college career to become one of the Panthers' true success stories.

You may remember Dinkins.

He was a star dual-threat quarterback at Schenley, fashioning himself in the City League mold of Major Harris before him and Rod Rutherford and Rasheed Marshall after him. Dinkins was recruited by many colleges as an athlete but insisted he would play quarterback in college.

Instead, Dinkins bounced from position to position as the Panthers tried to make use of his athleticism. He played tight end, wide receiver, strong and free safety and linebacker, all while viewing himself as a quarterback.

It wasn't until Dinkins spent a year-and-a-half working as a juvenile probation officer that he realized his love of the game was greater than that of playing quarterback.

Dinkins shared his story with the Pitt campers late last month at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex, hoping that his message sinks in with similar prospects.

"You can see some of them go through the things I went through," said Dinkins, a striking presence at a sculpted 6-foot-4, 253 pounds. "Sometimes, you have to see where the coaches see you becoming the best player."

The Panthers are hoping Darrell Strong was listening to Dinkins. Strong is a 6-4 1/2, 238-pound rising senior who has played quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and defensive end at Plantation (Fla.) High School.

Strong split time at quarterback and receiver in Plantation's Wing-T offense last season -- the Colonels had four of Broward County's top 15 rushers -- but will be featured more prominently in an open attack this fall.

"With his lack of experience at quarterback, there's a question mark," Plantation coach Frank Hepler said. "If he has a great year, people may recruit him as a quarterback.

"Right now, they like his body, his hands, his athleticism."

Although Strong has a live arm, Pitt is recruiting him as a tight end. Aside from his size, he displayed good footwork while running patterns and soft hands when catching passes from Penn Hills' Anthony Morelli during Pitt's camp.

Pitt was enamored enough to join Central Florida, Marshall and Mississippi State in offering a scholarship to Strong, a virtual unknown on Internet recruiting databases. Strong apparently gave the Panthers a "soft" verbal commitment.

"They've offered him, and I believe, to some extent, he accepted," said Hepler, whose program has produced new Pitt defensive ends coach Charlie Partridge and incoming linebacker recruit H.B. Blades. "He's still going to go to a couple camps and take some visits."

Strong made a strong impression at the camp, not only with his physical abilities but also with his attitude. He was described by one camp counselor as one of the friendliest, most engaging players in attendance.

Perhaps, Dinkins' speech made an impact on him.

"I'm sure it did," said Hepler, who worked at the camp. "We didn't talk specifically about that, but Darrell's the type of kid who listens and takes things in. Without him saying it, I'm sure (Dinkins' speech) made an impact."

Dinkins hopes that Strong wasn't the only one listening.

"I hope I am an inspiration for guys too scared to live outside that box," Dinkins said. "The bottom line is, the only person going to stop you is you."

Here's hoping more players learn to live outside that box.

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