Provo » From walk-on to perhaps the best tight end ever at a school that has had more than its share of great ones, and maybe the top player at his position in the country.
That's the story of BYU's Dennis Pitta, who will learn tonight on ESPN's College Football Awards show (5 p.m.) if he won the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation's best tight end for 2009.
Around Provo, teammates, coaches and even former great BYU tight ends are saying that Pitta wins on both accounts -- as the greatest tight end this year and the greatest ever at BYU.
"I see him at No. 1 at BYU, no question about it," said Chad Lewis, a former BYU tight end who made the Pro Bowl for the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. "For me, he ranks at the top. And if he doesn't win the Mackey Award, well, that would be robbery."
The other finalists for the Mackey Award are Florida junior Aaron Hernandez and Pitt senior Dorin Dickerson.
Pitta's primary competition to be called the greatest TE in school history is probably Gordon Hudson, who played from 1981-83 and was recently inducted into the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame.
Hudson had 178 receptions for 2,484 yards and 22 touchdowns from 1980-83. Pitta has more receptions than any pass-catcher in school history, 216, and more receiving yards, 2,856, than any tight end in major college football history.
He's one catch shy of Louisville's Ibn Green for career tight end receptions. Green had 217 from 1996-99.
With 20 touchdown catches, Pitta will try to reach or surpass Hudson's 22 when the No. 15 Cougars (10-2) meet No. 16 Oregon State (8-4) in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22.
"There's no way to put me against any other guys that have come before me," Pitta said when asked if he is best ever at BYU. "It is all speculation, and you believe what you want to believe. I am following in the footsteps of a lot of great tight ends, and I am privileged to be able to follow what they have done."
When his selection to the Hall of Fame was announced last spring, Hudson predicted that everything he had done would be equaled or surpassed by Pitta.
"He's already one of the greats," Hudson said.
Lewis, who shared playing time, receptions, yards and touchdowns with another great tight end, Itula Mili, at BYU, said Pitta deserves additional respect because he also played alongside Andrew George, another BYU senior.
"Look at what he has done with another great tight end next to him," Lewis said. "But at the same time he did that, he managed to break every record at BYU -- not just tight end records, but receiving records. Do you know how unbelievable that accomplishment is?"
Pitta had a few minor scholarship offers out of Moorpark High School in California, but chose to walk on and gray shirt his first year at BYU under then-coach Gary Crowton. He said when Crowton decided to award him a scholarship during spring ball, the coach called him "Derek."
"I came in as an unknown walk-on," Pitta said. "My expectations for myself were always high, but others expectations for me weren't very high. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunities that I have, and have been able to be successful.
"I would have never imagined that I would be where I am at now, but certainly grateful for all that I have learned throughout the journey."
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said Pitta's work ethic and production was crucial to the Cougars having won 10 games or more each of the past four seasons.
""I am not sure I can say where he ranks, but what I can say is he is among the best tight ends to ever play at BYU. That is saying quite a bit, because of the tradition of that position at BYU," Mendenhall said. "And more importantly, he is such a great teammate, a great person, and an excellent leader."
Certainly, Pitta's brother-in-law will cheer for him Thursday night. That happens to be Max Hall, BYU's quarterback.
"I think if you look at not only what he has done this season, but his career, he deserves to be a finalist, and I hope they really consider him to win," Hall said. "The big plays he has made in critical situations, and what he has done for the football team, he deserves to be right up there" with Lewis, Hudson and the other great tight ends.
» Tight end Dennis Pitta started his BYU career as a walk-on.
» He will attend a ceremony tonight to find out if he won the Mackey Award for the best tight end in the country.
» Pitta has the most career receptions at BYU (216) and more receiving yards (2,856) than any tight end in major college football history.
Dec. 22 » Las Vegas Bowl,
BYU vs Oregon State
Dec. 23 » Poinsettia Bowl, Utah vs. Cal
Dec. 31 » Armed Forces Bowl, Air Force vs Houston
Jan. 1 » Sugar Bowl, Florida vs. Cincinnati
Jan. 4 » Fiesta Bowl, TCU vs, Boise State
Jan. 7 » BCS Championship Game, Alabama vs. Texas