Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Dorin Dickerson had his plan all mapped out when he got to Pittsburgh in 2006. He would play for three years, fulfill his star potential and then bolt early for the NFL.
It didn't seem like an outlandish idea, either. Dickerson was ranked as one of the top recruits in the country and it was considered a coup when Dave Wannstedt pulled him from the clutches of Florida, Michigan and Penn State.
Fast forward to four years later and here Dickerson is as a senior, still with the Panthers and still hoping to make an impact that even approaches what he once thought possible.
"Stuff happens," he said. "Not everything goes the way you plan, and you've got to roll with the punches.
"I've tried moving to different positions to see if I could get more playing time. I've got to make this one work because it's my last year."
There are two ways to look at Dickerson's first three years: either the Pitt coaches never figured out how to properly use him, or he was always just a square peg in a round hole.
At West Allegheny (Pa.) High School, he was like the Bugs Bunny of his team. He'd line up at receiver, running back, linebacker, corner back, whatever. He figured he'd be a receiver in college, and that's where Pitt first put the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder as a true freshmen when he saw spot time. He even took a direct snap from the backfield in one game.
As a sophomore, he switched to linebacker, playing in 12 games as a backup and recording 15 tackles. The following spring, with Nate Byham out with an injury, the coaching staff suggested another change, this time to tight end.
"I said, you know what, I've tried every other position," Dickerson said. "I might as well give it a chance."
Dickerson started two games last season and had 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns, including a 41-yarder against Cincinnati. He had finally found a home after much wandering.
Dickerson says he doesn't blame the coaching staff for moving him around so much.
"Part of it was my fault," he said. "I came in and probably my head was too big. I didn't think I had to work as hard as everybody else.
"I had to look in the mirror and mature and do more to be a better player. Wherever I play at, it doesn't matter. I was just like an athlete; I could play anywhere, but I never really had a set position. But (tight end) is the best place for me. It's very comforting for me to know I've had the same position now for two years in a row."
The past is the past. The future still holds promise.
Dickerson's versatility gives Pitt a lot of options. They can play him in two tight end receiver sets with Byham, a first team All-Big East selection last season. Dickerson can line up as a receiver, or he can shift to the backfield as a fullback. The tight end could become a bigger weapon in the Panthers' offense this season with LeSean McCoy no longer around.
"I bring more speed to it, and Nate brings more size," Dickerson said. "I'm like a hybrid. I can play anywhere."
The one-time blue chipper who saw himself as a surefire NFL draft pick has now adopted a blue collar attitude.
"I never thought I'd say this to you right now," he says, "but it's the best feeling to see a running back score a touchdown or gain 10 yards and you helped make the block."
That's where Dickerson is right now. No longer worried so much about his own future, though he could still catch the eyes of scouts with a big senior season. He's focused instead on fulfilling the potential he and the rest of his 2006 classmates once boasted.
"We all came in together and now we've all got to step up and do something," he said. "This is the year to bring Pitt back on the map and go to a big bowl game."