Things did not work out for former Pitt quarterback Ben DiNucci in Pittsburgh, but since moving on, he has found success. Last season, he reached the FCS national championship game with James Madison, and on Saturday, he earned himself a spot on the roster of the Dallas Cowboys.
The 6’3”, 209-pound rookie’s spot was essentially secured on Wednesday, when former Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson was cut by the Cowboys. But the news was not made official until 53-man rosters were finalized by all NFL teams at 4 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday.
DiNucci faced Thorson in his first game at the college level, as he filled in for an injured Nathan Peterman in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl. Pitt would lose that game to Northwestern 31-24, but on an individual level, DiNucci now appears to be on an upward trajectory, while Thorson has now been cut by two teams in two years since entering the league in 2019.
DiNucci was selected by the Cowboys in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft after a chance encounter with first-year Cowboys coach and fellow Pittsburgh native Mike McCarthy. The two met on an elevator in Frisco, Texas, when DiNucci was in town for the FCS title game. He mentioned McCarthy’s brother was his basketball coach back in Pittsburgh, and three months after their chat, DiNucci was chosen by the Cowboys in the draft with the 231st overall pick.
Since his selection in April, DiNucci has earned a reputation as a playmaker and caught the eyes of team coaches and executives. Cowboys President Stephen Jones even compared the former Pitt signal-caller to longtime Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
“[McCarthy] said he’s a baller,” Jones said during an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio in May. “He’s very athletic. Certainly no one is saying he is [the next Tony Romo], but if you remember, Tony Romo was a college free agent. [DiNucci] has some of those type of tools, instinctive and seems to make plays.”
With DiNucci now officially on the Cowboys roster for the 2020 season, he will likely be designated a third-stringer at quarterback behind returning starter Dak Prescott and longtime Cincinnati Bengals starter Andy Dalton, who joined the organization as a second-stringer in 2019. Cowboys coaches have said DiNucci has a long way to go in his development, but they are optimistic about his potential as a backup quarterback.