Dick Harmon: Father witnesses rise of his son as Dennis Pitta has breakout year

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2 2013 10:55 p.m. MST

One game his senior year, the son caught a 96-yard touchdown pass which was called back on a penalty. The father’s belief in the future of his son grew as he amassed more big plays and grew from 6-1 to 6-4 and 180 pounds.

The father would know. He played middle linebacker for the University of California. Dennis Pitta Sr. recently received votes on a poll listing the all-time best University of California football players. He had 20 tackles and an interception that set up a second-half touchdown in a Bears 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 Csonka and at Modesto Junior College, played against O.J. Simpson (San Francisco City College).

Still, his son, while noticed by recruiters, never received a Division I scholarship offer and walked on at BYU. By the end of his Cougar career, the son had a whopping 221 receptions for 2,901 yards and 21 touchdowns. The 221 catches is the most by any BYU player in school history.

Naturally, the father is extremely proud of his son. “He is a great athlete and he has shown that he has grown and learned to use his abilities. But he is also a very good person, and we are proud of that as well.”

His son served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Dominican Republic before his career at BYU. He is also an Eagle Scout. The tight end has become very close friends with his quarterback Flacco. “They hang out together with their wives and do things all the time,” said the father.

This May, Dennis Jr. and his wife Mataya, will bring Dennis Sr. and his wife Linda their sixth grandchild — a boy. His sister Kelly is also due in May with grandchild No. 7.

The parents are not attending the Super Bowl in New Orleans this weekend. They chose to watch the game in the comfort of their own home. But another daughter, Lindsey, and her husband are at the game.

As one can imagine, the Pitta family couldn’t be happier with the progress of this Raven superstar-in-the-making. He’s exceeded expectations of college recruiters and NFL scouts, who pegged him for a fourth-round pick despite being a finalist for the MacKay Award and one of the leading receivers in college football his senior year at BYU.

The Dennis Pitta story reminds you of a quote by Shaquille O’Neal: “Excellence is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you do repeatedly.”

And since the son took up this game, he’s repeatedly exceeded the bar set for him. He did it in high school, at BYU and as an NFL player now ready to climb on the game’s biggest stage.

“He’s a good kid and it is fun watching him,” said the father.

Yes, Dennis Sr. — it is and he is.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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