Moving Up

With his ascendance up the depth chart, sophomore defensive lineman Keilen Dykes is also becoming a bit more outspoken. The newfound bravado isn't just idle talk, however. Dykes and his teammates upfront are backing up the blunt, and in this day of bland quotes, refreshing observations.

For instance, there's Dykes' short comment on the upper hand he and his linemates have held this spring: "There's a lot of offensive line guys out, so we should be dominating."

Words like that might take on the wrong meaning when simply read on the page, so it's important to note that Dykes didn't mean any disrespect with the comment. He knows that the second and third team offensive linemen learning the ropes are going through the same learning experience he did a year ago, and that the absence of Dan Mozes, Jeremy Sheffey and Travis Garrett gives a big edge to the defense. However, he also knows that while it's his job to perform his best on every play, the guys on the other side of the ball are ultimately on the same team.

"They are still your teammates, but there are bragging rights involved," Dykes said of the daily spring confrontations.

Those battles often result in some scuffles, but they usually simmer down quickly.

"Zac Napier was a little mad at me, and I don't know what that was about, because I don't even go against him," Dykes said of a flareup during recent scrimmage work. But it's cool. We're all teammates."

Once again, Dykes comments were direct and to the point. They were also said with a laugh and a smile, without a hint of malice, giving the impression that if Napier were to wander along right now, everything would be fine.

Dykes and the rest of the line have been more than fine so far this spring, building depth that defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich hasn't enjoyed in a long time. Dykes, Craig Wilson, Ernest Hunter, Andrae Wright, Pat Leibig, Johnny Dingle and Warren Young give the Mountaineers at least seven players good enough to win with.

"We've been coming out and playing hard," Dykes said of the defense's dominance. We're deep everywhere, at the corners, and the D-Line. We've been in the system a while too, and everyone is starting to come together."

Depth, of course, pays dividends in more than one way. Not only is the unit better able to withstand an injury to a key player, but it also helps keep everyone fresh. Coaches that have no fear of playing their backups can rest their starters a bit more frequently, and thus have players still performing at a high level deep into games.

"There ain't no sweat on me," Dykes said with a grin after a recent lengthy workout in full pads. "Coach Kirlav is coaching us up right, and we have a lot of guys who can roll in and out. It's going to help us out in the long run."

In truth, Dykes probably did shed a few drops of perspiration during the practice, but it's also true that he looked ready and able to go through another session without much stress. Much of the reason for that is physical, as described previously, but there's also less mental stress as well, which comes from Dykes' increased comfort in the system.

"It's been so much more fun this year," Dykes said when comparing the spring of 2004 to this year's edition. Last year wasn't fun to me, because I wasn't really sure of everything I was doing, but this year it's coming to me easier. I have been learning everything and going out there and putting it to work, so it's been a lot better.

"I'm also really comfortable playing alongside my teammates," Dykes continued. "Playing with Big Drae (Andrae Wright) and Ernest Hunter is great. Drae is enthusiastic – he's always running and jumping around. It's fun playing with those guys, being in the meeting room with them, whatever. Then when you make a play, it's better because those are the guys you are hanging out with and kicking it with."

That comfort level, according to Dykes, has made it easier to make plays, even in the meat grinder of goal line drills. A portion of WVU's scrimmage time is often devoted to third and fourth down short yardage situations near the defense's end zone, and it's down there in close quarters where Dykes really enjoys himself.

Asked to name his key thought when lining up in those situations, the ebullient Ohioan didn't hesitate.

"Bust ass. Just bust ass," Dykes said with a laugh. "Get some contact and let's go. That's all there is to it."

Simple, straightforward, and direct. Could there be a better philosophy for a defensive lineman?

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