Dick Harmon: Pitta keeps tradition alive

Published: Sunday, June 17 2007 12:32 a.m. MDT

The father did it; the son wants to follow.

This sports domino has certainly run the gauntlet in sports families. A dad does well and a son or daughter is driven to do the same.

For Dennis Pitta Sr. and Dennis Pitta Jr., this autumn can bring the realization of a mutual dream.

Dennis Pitta Jr. will be a sophomore tight end this fall at BYU, competing with Vic So'oto and Andrew George in a race to see who may replace Jonny Harline as a big playmaker in the Cougar offense this fall.

Like George and So'oto, Pitta has been working his tail off this winter and summer. The Cougar offense, morphing under coordinator Robert Anae, who brought a remnant of the Texas Tech philosophy, is deploying the tight end as a major weapon. BYU appears to be astute at recruiting players at that position.

Dennis Pitta Jr., Cougar fans may remember, played significant minutes as a freshman in 2004 under head coach Gary Crowton, before serving an LDS mission. He took advantage of an injury to Phil Niu and ended up with more catches than Daniel Coats. He returned from his two-year absence in December and was on the sidelines for the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.

Pitta is BYU's fastest tight end at present. In timed tests on Friday, Pitta was clocked in the same 40-yard range as receivers Austin Collie and Michael Reed. He is 6-foot-5, 242 pounds. He wants to be more physical and has been under the direction of a paid personal trainer to increase his speed. After digesting what BYU's offseason conditioning program has to offer under coach Jay Omer four days a week, Pitta does an extra set of workouts to increase his speed on two other days.

While many BYU fans remember the son, few, if any know of the college football background of the father.

Both father and son started their college football careers in games against Notre Dame. How many fathers and sons can make that claim?

Dennis Pitta Sr. recently received votes on a poll listing the all-time best University of California football players. A linebacker in the late-60s, Dennis Pitta Sr., had 20 tackles and an interception that set up a second-half touchdown in a Bear win over UCLA in 1968. He played a key role in a win over Syracuse, a victory that elevated Cal to a No. 8 national ranking. He played against Larry Czonka and at Modesto Junior College, he played against O.J. Simpson (San Francisco City College).

Dennis Pitta Jr., you could say, does have the genes to continue a great family tradition of making college football plays.

Why should this be such a big deal?

Well, because sports are a big deal to the Pitta family.

"Sports have been extremely important in my life, sometimes more important than maybe they should be," said Dennis Pitta Sr., who recently moved to Highland from California where he now works for First Colony Mortgage in Utah Valley.

"Sports were important to my father and to my mother until she passed away. She was listening to sports talk shows and you don't find very many 70-year-old women doing that. Sports have just been important in our family."

That's why summer workouts for Junior are key to the Senior.

Dennis Sr. sees this challenge before his son — So'to and George — and is anxious to see results.

Watching BYU practices this fall and spring, Pitta Senior became good friends with Harline and his father, Dave.

"I know from watching Jonny that it isn't the time or the tests that count — it is the ability to deliver big plays, and Jonny did that for two years for the Cougars." Harline's numbers at the NFL combined last February were poor. Still, he has shown a penchant for making plays in high school and college and may yet do so in the NFL.

Both Dennis Pittas want big plays come this fall.

Said Pitta Sr.: "The best Father's Day present I could have is for Dennis to do well. I have enough ties and belts. I just want him to perform to the best of his ability."

When the latest Pitta model runs onto the field against Arizona this fall, it'll all start again for the father. He couldn't be more proud.

"To have a son who is athletic, who is able to play at the Division I level, is a dream for me. Now, sports are not an end all for me. My son has done well in school all his life. He makes good decisions, he is a good person and he's taken two years out of his life to serve a mission. He's just a good kid. I'm as proud of that as anything, but with sports being such a big part of our life, it's definitely something I'm proud of. To see him play college football is a dream come true."

The father said above all, he hopes his son remains humble and grateful for this opportunity to use his gift and develop his talent.

"He does have this confidence about him. I was never that confident in my football career. He does have this inner confidence about him, and I hope it serves him well."


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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