First Impressions

Many pass rushers tend to be loud, brash, and not to put too fine a point on it, flamboyant. All time greats like Lawrence Taylor, and more recent success stories like Jevon Kearse, seem to thrive on making bold statements and backing them up. That's not the case, however, for the player West Virginia is hoping will yield some of the same sort of productivity that "LT" and "The Freak" gave to their teams.

At first glance, it seems as if Mountaineer defensive end Johnny Dingle might be out of the same mold. He sports a row of gold teeth that put those modeled by Antonio Brown to shame, hails from the bragging capital of the football world (Miami, Fla.), and carries himself with an air of authority as he strides across the room. However, just a couple of moments with the speed-rushing sophomore result in a much different picture.

First of all, Dingle speaks in a low, quiet and measured voice that barely moves the needle on a decibel meter. Turning the microphone up to its highest setting is a requirement.

Dingle also deflects most questions about himself, and usually ends up answering them in context of the team. It's somewhat odd to match that persona with the perceptions that he might get tagged with at first glance, but it doesn't take long to realize that those first impressions are deceiving.

Ask Dingle about his role on the team, and you might expect to hear a goal for sack totals. Instead, you get this:

"As of right now, I'm just trying to help the team out. Coach has been telling me they need a speed rusher, so I guess I am the guy they found. I want to be an every down guy, but I will be whatever the defense needs me to be."

Not much in the way of self-promotion there. Of course, Dingle did admit to wanting a starting role. So he has to think he belongs there, right?

"I feel I can play every down," Dingle says. "But the situation is that there are guys that were here before me. We have a group of tough defensive linemen. I prefer to have fresh legs, so if everyone can rotate in, that will be a good thing. It will give everyone a chance to show their talent."

By now, it's clear. This young man isn't interested in self-promotion or drawing attention to himself. He's just anxious to get back on the field and help his team, and those aren't just empty words.

Dingle initially signed with Florida out of high school, but never played for the Gators. He then enrolled at West Virginia in January of 2004, and has been working out while waiting for his chance to get back on the field in the fall of 2005.

"It was really hard to sit out," said Dingle, who was a first team Class 4A all-state selection in high school. "I love football and I love to play. I just tried to work hard in the weight room and put my head toward [this year]. I know who I am, so I knew I couldn't put my head down. I just had to keep working. I worked on my ‘get off' and my hips every day. Those are signs of a great pass rusher."

Dingle doesn't like to talk about the decision to leave Florida, and prefers to look forward to the future. He will only allow that "life is all about ups and downs, and you have to move on", but that's something he seemingly has done. Although he knew it would be more than a year and a half before he would have the chance to see any playing time, he didn't waste any of the intervening moments. A member of the WVU Athletic Director's Academic Honor Roll, Dingle also spent a lot of time in film study in addition to hitting the weight room on a regular basis.

"I've been watching films of Lawrence Taylor and Jevon Kearse when he was in college, along with a couple of other guys," Dingle said of his independent film work, which he watches in addition to the regular workload in the Puskar Center. "I watched that film on my own. At home, I'll watch old games on ESPN Classic. I just like watching the great defensive ends perform at their best. I'll try to take a little bit from each one and add it to my game. Then I just get out there and fly around and have fun."

Dingle played a standup defensive end in high school, a position that melds some features of both defensive lineman and linebacker. However, he noted that his main assignment at Booker T. Washington was the same as it will be in Morgantown – get the quarterback.

"Nothing has really changed here, although I'm an end here," said Dingle, who racked up 22 sacks as a senior. "It's still pretty much the same to me."

Now that he finally has some playing time in his immediate future, Dingle can't wait. Asked about the upcoming Syracuse game, the quiet, reserved front breaks away, revealing a gleaming smile that is outshone by the glow of anticipation.

"It's going to be like a dream come true," Dingle said as he struggled for words to describe his emotions. "I've been waiting for this for two years now, and it's almost here. I just want to have the best season I can, and help the team get over the hump from the Gator Bowl to a BCS Bowl."

Once again, Dingle managed to turn a personal question into one involving the team, which remains his first focus. But by this point, if you don't have that idea solidly fixed in your mind, then you're still fooled by those deceptive first impressions.


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