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Super Bowl: BYU's Dennis Pitta emerging as Ravens' star

Published February 2, 2013 12:22 am

TE Pitta has polished his game considerably since starring in Provo.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New Orleans • Dennis Pitta already married the sister-in-law of his BYU quarterback, so joining Joe Flacco's extended family was not an option for him.

Yet the Baltimore Ravens' tight end has managed to bond similarly with Flacco, becoming a good friend and consistent receiver during the team's march to Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII against San Francisco.

"When you have that kind of relationship with a quarterback, it certainly helps," Pitta said. "You develop a trust on the field as well, which is important."

The result is that the first three years of Pitta's NFL career have closely followed the growth trend of his BYU tenure.

Having expanded his game by running for yardage after the catch, he's emerged at critical moments in the playoffs. Pitta has come a long way since high school in southern California, where he attracted little recruiting interest as a 185-pound receiver and cornerback.

Not that he minded his job description in those days. "I was skinny, tall and didn't block anyone," the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Pitta said. "I just ran around and caught passes. It was fun."

The enjoyment continued at BYU, where Pitta arrived as an invited walk-on in former coach Gary Crowton's program, moved to tight end as a freshman and left as the school's career receiving leader with 221 catches in four seasons. In the process, he played with quarterback Max Hall for three years and married a sister of Hall's wife, who introduced them.

As has happened occasionally in BYU history with tandems such as Chad Lewis/Itula Mili and Jonny Harline/Daniel Coats, the Cougars were well stocked at tight end with Pitta and Andrew George. Pitta naturally overshadowed George, who still loved playing with him.

"Not everybody you play with is a great teammate," George said last week. "I tell people all the time, he was a great teammate. He was especially good to me. It wasn't like this fierce competition between the two of us. I don't think I could have been in that situation with anybody else."

Lewis labels Pitta as BYU's best tight end ever, with "an uncanny ability to make plays," and that's irrefutable. Nobody remembers him dropping a pass at BYU. Yet as productive as Pitta was, he gained only moderate ground after catching the ball.

He's not conscious of having improved in that regard, but his Ravens position coach certainly is.

"Part of it is he's understanding the routes and part of it is the quarterback getting him the ball so he can continue running," said Wade Harman, a former Utah State player and coach. "He's done a good job this year of getting through guys, making some guys miss, getting himself in the end zone. When it happens a couple times and he's seen the results, I think it's just spurred him to get better at it."

In the 2010 NFL Draft, the Ravens took Oregon tight end Ed Dickson in the third round and followed with Pitta in the fourth round. Pitta has moved ahead of Dickson in the lineup and was Baltimore's No. 2 receiver with 61 catches for 669 yards — including 289 yards after the catch — and seven touchdowns in the regular season.

It's been a rewarding year for him, once he recovered from a broken hand during training camp. "That's what this league is about: When you get an opportunity, you've got to capitalize," Pitta said.

In three playoff games, Pitta has 10 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest plays have included a catch on third-and-13 against Denver in overtime when the Ravens were in poor field position and a go-ahead touchdown against New England in the AFC title game, one play after making a catch and being abruptly upended by linebacker Jerod Mayo.

And now he'll play in the Super Bowl in a stadium where he once faced Tulane in a rather weird atmosphere. The announced crowd for BYU's 54-3 victory in 2009 was 26,224 in the Superdome. "It feels huge, especially when it's not packed," Pitta said.

The building will be filled Sunday, when Pitta hopes to become the first former BYU offensive player to actually take the field in a Super Bowl victory since quarterback Steve Young and center Bart Oates played for San Francisco, 18 years ago.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt —

Super Cougars

The history of former BYU players on game-day active rosters for the Super Bowl:

Bowl Player Pos. Team Result

IX Gordon Gravelle OT Pittsburgh Pittsburgh 16, Minnesota 6

X Gordon Gravelle OT Pittsburgh Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17

XII Paul Howard OG Denver Dallas 27, Denver 10

XIV Gordon Gravelle OT L.A. Rams Pittsburgh 31, L.A. Rams 19

XV Todd Christensen TE Oakland Oakland 27, Philadelphia 10

XV Marc Wilson QB Oakland Oakland 27, Philadelphia 10

XVI Bill Ring RB San Francisco San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21

XVII Mat Mendenhall DE Washington Washington 27, Miami 17

XVIII Todd Christensen TE L.A. Raiders L.A. Raiders 30, Washington 9

XVIII Marc Wilson QB L.A. Raiders L.A. Raiders 30, Washington 9

XIX Tom Holmoe DB San Francisco San Francisco 38, Miami 16

XIX Bill Ring RB San Francisco San Francisco 38, Miami 16

XIX Todd Shell LB San Francisco San Francisco 38, Miami 16

XX Jim McMahon QB Chicago Chicago 46, New England 10

XXI Bart Oates C N.Y. Giants N.Y. Giants 39, Denver 20

XXII Kurt Gouveia LB Washington Washington 42, Denver 10

XXIII Jason Buck DE Cincinnati San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16

XXIII Lee Johnson P Cincinnati San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16

XXIII Leon White LB Cincinnati San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16

XXIII Tom Holmoe DB San Francisco San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16

XXIII Steve Young QB San Francisco San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16

XXIV Steve Young QB San Francisco San Francisco 55, Denver 10

XXV Bart Oates C N.Y. Giants N.Y. Giants 20, Buffalo 19

XXVI Kurt Gouveia LB Washington Washington 37, Buffalo 24

XXVI Jason Buck DE Washington Washington 37, Buffalo 24

XXIX Bart Oates C San Francisco San Francisco 49, San Diego 26

XXIX Steve Young QB San Francisco San Francisco 49, San Diego 26

XXXI Jim McMahon QB Green Bay Green Bay 35, New England 21

XXXIII Travis Hall DE Atlanta Denver 34, Atlanta 19

XXXVI Doug Jolley TE Oakland Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21

XXXIX Reno Mahe RB Philadelphia New England 24, Philadelphia 21

XL Chris Hoke DT Pittsburgh Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10

XL Brett Keisel DE Pittsburgh Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10

XLI Rob Morris LB Indianapolis Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17

XLI Gabe Reid TE Chicago Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17

XLI John Tait OT Chicago Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17

XLIII Aaron Francisco DB Arizona Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

XLIII Chris Hoke DT Pittsburgh Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

XLIII Brett Keisel DE Pittsburgh Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

XLIV Austin Collie WR Indianapolis New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17

XLIV Aaron Francisco DB Indianapolis New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17

XLV Brett Keisel DE Pittsburgh Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25

XLV Chris Hoke DT Pittsburgh Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25