Through two games though, the Mountaineers have just one sack. Rich Rodriguez has stated that the pass rush must become more effective to take some pressure off the defensive secondary. One thing's for certain...the defensive line is deeper and more experienced this year than it has been in a couple of years. With starters Ben Lynch and Jason Hardee, coach Bill Kirelawich has two veteran leaders. End Ernest Hunter has also started on and off since his freshman season. If the Mountaineer D-Line is to really improve though, it's the guys behind Hunter, Hardee, and Lynch that will make the difference. One of those is redshirt freshman Keilen Dykes.
There's no question Dykes is a star in the making. He chose West Virginia over a slew of schools from the Big 10, as well as Pitt and Miami of Ohio. His size, 6'4" 285 lbs., and quick feet make him an ideal defensive end.
Dykes was redshirted last year, after coming to the Mountaineers from Chaney High School in Youngstown. In his senior year playing for the Cowboys, he totaled 75 tackles, including 9.5 sacks. He played for Ohio in the prestigious Big 33 All-Star game, which pits the best high school seniors from the Buckeye State against the best in Pennsylvania. Like a majority of college freshmen, he was redshirted in his first year, and looking back the soft spoken Dykes is just fine with that.
"Anybody coming in would want to play right away. It was good though to come in and spend a year learning the system. Looking back, I'm glad I got redshirted."
The year spent learning the Mountaineer defense and running opposing defenses on the scout team hasn't set Dykes at a disadvantage when it comes to making his mark in his first year of eligibility. On the Mountaineer depth chart, he's actually listed as a co-starter with Hardee at one defensive end spot. A solid spring, and an even better fall camp have aided the Ohioan's rise up the depth chart.
"I've just been working hard, waiting to see what happened," says Dykes, "I just thank God for giving me the ability to go out there and play."
If you've ever been to a Mountaineer practice, the first thing you notice is that one voice, above all, stands out. The voice belongs to Kirleawich, who despite being all the way down in the corner next to the Touchdown Terrace, can be heard all over Evansdale.
"Coach Kirelawich is on your butt all the time. He's very intense, but because he's so intense in practice, it makes us all that much better when we get into the games.
"I'm better now than I was when I got here, and I've got coach Kirlav to thank for that. Every practice out there is like a game, we have to prepare just about the same way."
While many of the Mountaineers are treating this week just like business as usual for the Maryland game, Dykes is eager to get his first shot at the Terps.
"Oh man," he says when asked about the Terps. "I haven't been here for all the losses, but I was definitely here for last year's. I just wanted to get out there. It was like 'I know they can't be that good' so this Saturday i'll get my shot to go out there and see what I can do against the big boys."
Saturday's game marks the first big game of Dykes's young career. It's games like this that he'll use as groundwork for big games in the future. As stated above, Dykes's future is certainly bright in the Blue and Gold.
"By the end of this year, hopefully the sky's the limit for me," says the shy athletic coaching education major of his continued growth as a football player. "Hopefully, I'll be further down the road than I was when this year started. Every journey starts with one small step, so i'm just taking the small steps right now."
Those small steps will turn into longer strides as Dykes continues to make progress for the Mountaineers.