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Pair of Panthers land on Lombardi Award watch list

SirVocea Dennis led Pitt with 14.5 tackles for losses in 2020, and Calijah Kancey earned freshman All-America honors

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 26 Quick Lane Bowl - Pitt v Eastern Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pitt linebacker SirVocea Dennis and Pitt defensive lineman Calijah Kancey were placed on the Lombardi Award watch list on Thursday. The award was established in 1970 to honor the best lineman or linebacker in college football. However, in 2016, it was opened up to players at additional positions with a stated goal of recognizing the player who best embodies Vince Lombardi’s character.

Dennis and Kancey are among 80 players included on the 2021 watch list. All 10 FBS conferences have representatives on the preseason watch list, but 57 of the 80 nominees for the award come from the Power Five. The Big Ten and SEC lead all conferences, with 15 watch list selections each. Behind them, the ACC has 11 selections, while the Pac-12 has 10 and the Big 12 has six.

In 2020, Dennis enjoyed a breakout year as a sophomore. The 6’1”, 230-pound linebacker out of Syracuse, New York, tied with Rashad Weaver for the team lead in tackles for losses, with 14.5. He also came up with four sacks and ranked second on the team in tackles, with 57, trailing Damar Hamlin’s total of 67 by 10. Hamlin and Weaver have moved onto the NFL, with Hamlin now on the Buffalo Bills roster and Weaver with the Tennessee Titans.

As for Kancey, the 6’0”, 270-pound lineman played in all 11 of Pitt’s games in 2020 but was limited to four starts as a redshirt freshman. Still, the Miami native impressed in limited action, accruing 27 tackles, including seven tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks. As a result, Kancey earned freshman All-America honors from Rivals, the Athletic and the Football Writers Association of America, and much is expected of him on the gridiron in 2021.

Since the Lombardi Award was established by the Rotary Club of Houston in 1970, two Pitt players have won the honor. The first was Pitt defensive end Hugh Green in 1980, and the second was Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald in 2013. However, no program has won the honor more often than Ohio State, which has six Lombardi Award recipients since 1970.

The award has gone to ACC players on six occasions, with Donald being the most recent and Luke Kuechly of Boston College preceding him by two years. Last season, the award went to Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins, who became a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft.