Athlete of the Week: Jesse Dennis, Senior, Diving

Five years ago, Jesse Dennis was a 15-year-old kid attending Yavapai Community College in Prescott, Arizona, with no idea where his future would take him. But one year, 800 miles and one open swim session later, Dennis’s life had radically changed. After transferring to Mines in the fall of 2007, the CSM swim and dive coach caught a glimpse of Dennis at an open swim and was so impressed that he immediately recruited him to the varsity diving team. The following year, the young, home-schooled kid from middle-of-nowhere Arizona saw success begin to flood in. He was selected as the RMAC Men’s Diver of the Year, named First Team All-RMAC, and was even recognized by ESPN The Magazine as Second Team Academic All District. In his second year of competition, Dennis would advance to the national championships and finish 14th overall in the one meter dive. Not bad for someone with only two years of experience in his event.

Earlier this year, the senior in Mechanical Engineering was named the RMAC diver of the week and as the RMAC Championships approach later this week, Dennis looks to avenge his second place finish from 2009 and push on to his second straight National Championship appearance. For his performance and his career as an Oredigger, Jesse Dennis is this week’s Athlete of the Week.

Steven Wooldridge / Oredigger

What is it like to be a senior and see the end of your career?
It’s fun, fun to be out of school. But for diving, it’s not necessarily the end. There’s lots of opportunities out of school, out of the NCAA to compete. There’s lots of clubs out there; there’s one in Austin.

What did your road to Mines look like?
I grew up in kind of a home school type system, so when I was 15, I started going and taking classes at a community college that they didn’t have at any of the high schools. After a couple years there, I came here when I was 17. There were just no good engineering schools in Arizona.

What was the transition like?
It sucked the first year here. It was really different. The school wasn’t so hard, but it definitely had a different social dynamic, and just took a little while to adjust.

Why diving?
When I started, it was an open swim here, and the coach saw me and recruited me. I did do some gymnastics informally. The flipping is just fun, and there’s no long term damage to you.

What makes diving different than other sports?
Physically, it’s different. You get to fine tune the control you have over your body. You build up a lot of strength, but it’s all about control.

What is your favorite dive?
The front 3 1/2 (3 1/2 front flips) is the most fun because I love doing the flips. But I guess people would say my specialty is the inward full. It’s 1 1/2 flips with a twist.

What was the scariest dive you have done?
I don’t like the Back 2 1/2. When I was doing it in my first year, I tore my shoulder out of joint. And I also have dislocated a rib and popped my windpipe when I hit the water with my throat. I was coughing up blood for two days before it healed.

The RMAC championships are coming up this weekend. What is the atmosphere like at a championship meet?
There’s just a lot of really good guys. They focus a lot more on control, so you have to fine tune what you’ve got. But it’s pretty relaxed, there’s a lot of people and all the coaches and guys know each other.

Other favorite hobbies or activities?
I help out with some graduate student research, and I’m in Tau Beta Pi. I like hiking, too. I miss the desert, especially the Grand Canyon and the desert floor. We usually go down to the desert floor to go hiking pretty often.

After enduring the brutality of Mines, what is some advice you would give to younger students?
It’s all about academics first. For student athletes, I think here are two types of athletes. The first are all about athletics. I would tell them that if they put all of their effort into athletics, there is no pot of gold at the the end. It will end sooner or later, and the only way to go is academics. The second type is the ones that don’t recognize the opportunity they have. You spend four years with coaches who are helping you and want you to do well. It’s a once in a lifetime chance, take advantage.

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