ATLANTA (Oct. 24) – It’s certainly a worn-out cliche to say that a kicker or punter “doesn’t look like a football player,” but Georgia Tech punter Dan Dyke more than lives up to that stereotype.
First, there’s the long, platinum blond hair (real, not peroxide) and laid back demeanor that make him seem as if he would be more comfortable surfing the Bonzai Pipeline than kicking footballs.
And how about the perfect 4.0 grade point average in Aerospace Engineering.
And then there’s the fact that this time last fall, the sophomore walk-on wasn’t a football player at all. He was simply another Georgia Tech freshman, attending class and enjoying college life.
“I went to all the home games and sat in the stands with the other students,” says Dyke.
Dyke will most certainly be out of the stands and in uniform for the White and Gold as the seventh-ranked Yellow Jackets (5-1, 3-1 ACC) host Atlantic Coast Conference rival NC State (5-3, 2-3 ACC) Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field at 3:30 p.m. (ABC-TV).
Entering the season, punting was looked upon as a question mark for the Yellow Jackets with the graduation of two-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference punter Rodney Williams and his backup. But Dyke has done much more than just make the team and earn the starting role.
Although Tech’s potent offense does not give him many chances to punt, Dyke has taken advantage of every opportunity and been remarkably consistent. His average of 45.6-yards per kick is second-best in the ACC and fourth in the nation, but he doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify for the leaders.
More impressively, Dyke’s net of 41.8 yards per punt ranks third in the nation and is ahead of the school record of 40.96, set by Williams in 1997. Eight of his 17 punts have been placed inside the 20-yard line, including a crucial punt in the fourth quarter against Duke that was downed at the one-yard line, helping Tech get the ball back in good field position for the tying score.
“Dan Dyke has been a real pleasant surprise, and I’m very happy for him,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary. “The key to punting is consistency, and he’s been very consistent for us this season.”
Dyke, who readily admits that his high school statistics “weren’t very good,” had no scholarship offers coming out of Oviedo High School in Winter Springs, Fla. No football scholarship offers, that is, because he is attending Georgia Tech on a Presidential Scholarship, reserved for the very top incoming students.
Dyke’s road to becoming the Yellow Jackets’ starting punter began shortly after he arrived on the Flats, when he participated in walk-on tryouts with about 20 other freshmen, including three or four other punters.
With the Jackets set at punter for last season, after a few practices, Dyke and the other of the aspiring punters were given a polite, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
“I didn’t do that bad, but they told me that they didn’t need any punters,” recalls Dyke. “They told us to come back in the spring.”
So Dyke decided that he would do just that.
“When someone tells you that you can’t do something, it motivates you,” he says. “I started working out every day, lifting at SAC (Tech’s student recreational facility) and trying to get stronger.
“In January, I started bugging [Director of High School Relations Butch] Brooks. Finally, some time in February, after I kept begging, he brought me into Coach O’Leary’s office, and he said I could start working out with the team and come out in the spring. He told me to be there the next day at 5 a.m.”
Now he had his chance, but he still had to prove himself.
“The first couple of weeks of spring, I was nervous and I didn’t do well,” admits Dyke. “The last couple of days I started settling down and kicking better, but it still wasn’t great.
“Over the summer I really worked hard,” says Dyke, who attended a camp conducted by NFL Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy. “I worked on my leg strength and I kicked four or five times a week.
“But it wasn’t until about a week before the season that I felt like was I kicking very consistently.”
Still, Dyke had to win a preseason battle with scholarship freshman Philip Newman, who probably has a stronger leg, but it was Dyke’s consistency that proved to be the difference.
Dyke’s somewhat long and winding road still serves him well.
“I still feel that I have to prove myself every day, and I have to be ready for every practice,” he says. “That helps me stay focused.” -30-