As a freshman Alex Dennison hit the wall on the University at Buffalo’s quarterback depth chart. Unless the injuries began to mount, rarely if ever would he find his way onto the field.
At the same time, Bulls coach Jeff Quinn and his staff considered Dennison too good an all-around athlete to bury on the roster. He was tall (6-foot-1), strong and could run but the team was set at running back. So the Bulls asked Dennison how he felt about converting from quarterback to tight end.
Now there’s a positional switch you don’t see every day. Not only does tight end require more bulk, there’s also the matter of catching passes and, more importantly, blocking. But Dennison, a junior from Irwin, Pa., proved a quick study when it came to changing his body type and becoming functional at his new position.
“We wanted to keep him on offense,” Quinn said. “It wasn’t where we were deciding to move him on defense. It was, where else can we put him to get him on the field? That’s what we’re always thinking about as coaches: put the personnel in the best position to help us.”
Dennison provided one of UB’s top offensive highlights last year when he took a pass 57 yards for a score on the first play from scrimmage against Stony Brook. And he’s one of four tight ends the Bulls will count on this year, joining Jimmy Gordon, Matt Weiser and Jake Reeder to form one of the deeper positions on the roster.
“Coach brought the idea up about midway through the season two years ago and I thought it was a good idea because I was kind of a physical player, a physical runner, whenever I was at quarterback,” Dennison said. “I thought it would be a good transition and so did coach Quinn. Obviously it’s working out well for me.”
The first order of business was upping Dennison to a weight suitable to the position. He played quarterback at around 210 pounds. He now weighs in at a lean 251.
“I put on like 50, 60 pounds in a couple months,” Dennison said. “Most of it was fat at first but I finally got to trim it down. I’m pretty good where I’m at now. It was a lot of work but it pays off when you get to be on the field a lot more as a tight end. And I really, really do enjoy it.”
Dennison’s commitment to change was an around-the-clock effort. Devouring potato chips and dip while lounging on the couch would have put the weight on, but good luck playing football.
“It was actually a lot of work that you wouldn’t think about,” Dennison said. “It was a lot of lifting weights but when I was 215 I had an alarm set for 2 o’clock in the morning and 4 o’clock in the morning and I’d eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a protein shake so that I wasn’t starving my body while I was sleeping. Then six or seven small meals a day instead of like three meals, stuff like that.”
The nature of the position gives quarterback insight into what happens at every position on the field. That awareness provided Dennison a base knowledge of his responsibilities at tight end, easing the demands of the switch.
“Being a quarterback helped out because I could see coverages a little quicker,” he said. “I already knew the offense so it wasn’t like I was a freshman coming in. I already knew what to do it was more like the techniques and stuff like that that I had to learn. And (tight ends) coach (Marty) Spieler did a really good job teaching me really quickly in learning how to do things so when spring came up the next year I was pretty caught up to speed. I had a lot of things to learn but I was further ahead than I thought I was going to be because coach Spieler taught me so well.”
The Bulls rarely emphasize the tight end in the passing game but it stands to reason that, if only to keep opponents honest, they could make more effective use of the position than a year ago. Dennison and Gordon tied for the team lead at tight end with five catches apiece as the Bulls looked to their receivers to compliment the running of record-setting back Bo Oliver.
“Blocking for Bo is an honor for the tight ends,” Dennison said. “We really enjoy knowing that we’re opening lanes for him. He gets some good outside runs, and we set those up.
“But obviously we like some love too sometimes. We’ve been working on that a lot this summer and the past spring of incorporating the tight ends a little bit more.
“We got to step up this year in camp and show the coaches that we can make these plays.”