Star senior Dickenson makes mark off the field


By Mark Powell / Staff Writer

With the Pitt men’s soccer team at the end of its ACC schedule, most fans are fixated on the product on the field. However, it’s what one player is doing in the classroom and off the field that has received national attention, including nomination for a prestigious award.

Senior Julian Dickenson has been a shoe-in for the Panthers’ center back position for four years. While he has been sidelined for a large part of this season with a foot injury, he attends every practice, training session and workout while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and studying actuarial mathematics.

The life of a student athlete is more hectic than glamorous, consisting of early morning classes, afternoon practices and late-night homework and studying. It’s a pattern that can lead to struggles on and off the field.

“It’s definitely really tough. One of the things I keep in mind is priorities. For me, it’s school and soccer over everything else. It’s a lot of sacrifice,” Dickenson said. “There are a lot of times when friends are going out, and you have to stay in and study, and then you have to wake up and do the same thing. There aren’t many breaks … you have to keep what’s important in mind.”

While most schools — including Pitt — provide tutors and other checks to make sure student athletes maintain a productive schedule and balance their time equally with both school and athletics, it is still largely up to the athletes to utilize the system put in place for them. 

This is what separates Dickenson’s case from countless other student athletes’  — with the recent NCAA scandals regarding cheating on assignments and tests,  his is a rare success story.

Regarding his day-to-day motivation for academics, Dickenson said “it’s all about the future.” 

“Sacrificing a couple years in college … I think it’s worth it,” he said.

Dickenson’s determination isn’t going unnoticed, as he’s one of 30 men’s soccer players nationwide nominated for the Senior CLASS Award by the NCAA. The award goes to the senior who excels in four areas — community, classroom, character and competition — on and off the field.

“Julian, on and off the field, is a class act,” Pitt head coach Joe Luxbacher said. “He’s a great student and a self-motivated guy. You never have to keep tabs on him doing what’s expected off the field … he’s a very mature young man.”

Dickenson does more than what is expected out of most students, let alone one who spends half his time on a soccer pitch, working tirelessly both there and in the classroom. However, those who know him suggest otherwise.

“His dedication and how much he’s committed to anything that he does [impresses me],” senior teammate Chu Chu Onyeukwu said. “When he wants something, he doesn’t let anything get in the way. It’s kind of like tunnel vision.”

On the field, Dickenson is a prime example of what Division I athletes can accomplish, starting games in all four seasons with the Panthers. As a defender, he doesn’t fill up the stat sheet, but his presence on the field is essential. His absence is noticeable  this year, as Pitt’s defense hasn’t been the same in the games he has missed. The team currently has the third-highest goals against average in the ACC.

“On the field it’s the same: He’s accountable and responsible. There’s a reason he’s been here for four years,” Luxbacher said.

With the recent student athlete cheating scandal at North Carolina, critics in the media are suggesting that universities and the NCAA demand too much of their student athletes and leave them very little help along the way. While Dickenson agrees that the workload can be stressful at times, he said he also sees the upside in gaining real life experience in college.

“I like to think that this helps us develop a lot of skills that we can use for later,” he said. “When you get into the real world, a lot is going to be expected of you by your boss and your family, so I think it’s a good way to prepare you for the future.”

With just one game remaining on Pitt’s schedule, Dickenson will take the field for the final time in a Pitt home jersey against Notre Dame on Nov. 1, the team’s senior night.