Red Lion's Davante Dennis follows his heart, will walk on to play D-I hoops in Texas

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports

For years, people have been telling Davante Dennis his future was in football.

It’s easy to see why.

The Red Lion High School two-sport standout stands at 6-feet, 6-inches, with a frame that allows college coaches to dream of what he could become as a defensive end with time in the weight room.

Red Lion's Davante Dennis runs 80 yard to score a touchdown during football action against Chambersburg at Horn Field in Red Lion, Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. Red Lion would win the game 26-21. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Two NCAA Division I programs — Massachusetts and Central Michigan — offered Dennis scholarships during the football season, but he didn’t accept either because he wanted to play his senior basketball season and wait for the perfect opportunity. Those around him assumed he would eventually concede that football offered the better alternative for Dennis after one last campaign on the court.

The only problem is, none of those people, who only see him when he’s in uniform, were taking into consideration Dennis’ passion to pursue a life that he actually enjoyed. Dennis originally wanted to play football and basketball in college, but it soon became clear that no school would offer him that opportunity.

So he had to make a choice.

So, with a mature view of the situation beyond his young age, the Lions standout has decided to turn down the easier path of football and elected to take a walk-on offer to play basketball at NCAA Divison I Incarnate Word.

“It's like working an office job if you really don't want to work an office job, but you're gonna get paid a lot of money. Even though you're getting paid a lot of money, why would you keep doing it because you'll be miserable?” Dennis said. “If you really like something, you’re really having fun and you really love it, you'll find a way and then you'll be happy. Nobody can pass up happiness. I don't hate football, but I know my heart is in basketball. I want to show everybody what I can do and I can do it well, and when I get to the next level I can do it with the best of them.”

Chasing his hoops dream: Dennis admitted even his own football teammates have asked him if he was OK after giving up the guaranteed playing time and scholarship money football would offer to chase his hoop dreams.

That doesn’t bother Dennis.

In fact it adds to the motivation he is betting will take him from a walk-on to a scholarship player over the next four years.

Along with Dallastown’s Michael Dickson, Dennis was named the Co-York-Adams League Division I Player of the Year in basketball. He was sixth in the league in scoring average at 17.6 points per game and led the Lions to a division title and 17-3 record after he endured losing seasons in his first three years.

Red Lion's Davante Dennis, left, takes the ball the the basket while Manheim Township's Sebastian Henson defends during District III, Class 6-A first round basketball action at Red Lion, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Dennis heard over the years that if he wanted to get an NCAA D-I basketball offer he would have to leave Red Lion for a prep school, especially if he wanted to do it in basketball. He didn’t agree with that perspective at all.

“I was under the impression that I don't care where I am, wherever I am if I want something, I'm gonna just go get it,” Dennis said.

That was definitely true when it came to finding an opportunity to play basketball in college. Dennis sent emails to 75 different schools that had reviewed his recruiting profile and said he heard back from 5% of them.

Finally getting the opportunity: Most of the programs he did get in contact with told him that they liked him, but didn’t have the money to offer him a scholarship. Disappointed by their decisions, Dennis worked through his frustration on the court and in the gym until an opportunity was finally presented to him.

Incarnate Word, located in San Antonio, Texas, got in touch with Dennis in February after he eclipsed the 1,000 career point mark. After Red Lion lost in the district playoffs to eventual state champion Reading, the conversations intensified.

The Cardinals play in the Southland Conference and went 8-14 last season.

With recruiting restrictions in place for NCAA D-I programs, Dennis couldn’t do an official visit but did do an admissions tour with his mother, Robin, and took some virtual tours of the dorms and facilities. Eventually, the coaches offered him a walk-on spot with the team, which took some time to settle in and excite Dennis.

“At first I just looked at it as, like, a generous way of saying that I can come to the school and try out if I want and they really won't care,” Dennis said. “But, the more like they talked to me, it wasn't like they offered me that and stopped talking to me, it was more that they just wish they had more money type of thing to at least help me out or give me a scholarship, and they really made me feel like I was wanted there.”

Red Lion's Davante Dennis, right, dunks the ball while Manheim Township's Donnell Bolds defends during District III, Class 6-A first round basketball action at Red Lion, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Incarnate Word’s football team is an NCAA D-I Football Championship Subdivision program, but had a road game at NCAA D-I Baylor canceled because of COVID-19 last spring. When smaller schools play powerhouse programs it often results in hundreds of thousands of dollars for a school such as Incarnate Word. That money is used to fund other athletic programs.

Without that money, the school's other sports are impacted. The Cardinals’ 2021 recruiting class includes only one true freshman and three graduate transfers, which cost the school much less in scholarship money over time than a four-year player.

Swartz scholarship will help: One factor that will help Dennis next fall is the Gretchen Wolf Swartz Scholarship Award he won. Because the Red Lion boys’ basketball team won the Swartz Sportsmanship Team Award, Dennis was given $19,000 toward his tuition.

Red Lion's Davante Dennis, front, and AJ Virata, right, react after a dunk by Dennis during District III, Class 6-A first round basketball action against Manheim Township at Red Lion, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Dennis understands how his decision looks to those on the outside, but he doesn’t care. His friends and family support his passion to play the sport he loves and the one that makes him happy, and that’s what really matters.

After months of stressing over where he would spend his next four years, Dennis finally allowed himself to take a moment and let set in what he had accomplished after his last day of being a Red Lion student.

“I went to look at the (Y-A D-I) championship banner and (his) 1,000 points scored banner and it’s just crazy to think throughout all the years I always said I want to go (NCAA) D-I you know, but never actually thought that it would turn into reality,” Dennis said. “I told people that I probably could do it, but deep down I questioned if I was really good enough to do it. To just think about everything that I achieved and overcame, I was just proud of myself. I'm so happy to be graduating and moving on to the next chapter in life to play collegiate basketball.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.