Sept. 16, 2015
The expression “Not in the Cards” has never been in Dan Dyke’s vocabulary.
Even being cut from Georgia Tech’s football team after trying to walk on as a freshman, didn’t deter the Winter Spring, Fla., native. He kept at it, then, given an opportunity during spring football, took advantage, starting for four seasons (1999-2002) and becoming one of the most reliable punters in program history as well as one Tech’s most remarkable student-athletes, period, earning Academic All-American four straight years.
“When I decided to walk onto the team my freshman year, the first time, when I got cut, I guess you could say then the odds of being in the Hall of Fame were pretty slim,” he said, adding with a laugh, “Once it happens it’s at 100 percent.”
Dyke will be one of nine former Yellow Jackets student-athletes inducted into the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame at the annual Induction Dinner on Oct. 16 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. He’ll join All-American shortstop Tyler Greene, two-time Olympian and NCAA track champion Chaunté Howard Lowe, All-American softball pitcher Jessica Sallinger Cole, long-time director of broadcasting Wes Durham, first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference tailback Joe Burns, former football manager Charlie Germany, All-Atlantic Coast Conference golfer Kris Mikkelsen, and Jakie Rudolph, an All-American Specialist and two sport letterman in football and golf.
Tickets are available for the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame Induction Dinner on Oct. 16 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center by clicking this link, completing the form and sending it in to Barb Dockweiler in the Alexander-Tharpe Fund.
Having a leg good enough to earn all-conference honors his final two years in football and three years at Oviedo High School, Dan tried to walk on to Georgia Tech as a freshman but found the door shut, primarily because of the punters in front of him, especially starter Rodney Williams, himself a Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Famer, Class of 2011. But that was not going to stop him.
“I guess I was just persistent. It was what I wanted to do. I wanted to become the punter. I thought there was a pretty good opportunity,” he said. “My freshman year at Georgia Tech we had two punters on the team that were both seniors and both were really good. So it was understandable that I didn’t make the team because they didn’t need a punter. I was still motivated, because I knew the next year they needed a punter. So I worked very hard at it that whole fall and stayed persistent, and I kept going in and talking to people in the football office, and just let them know I was working hard and still wanted another chance on the team.”
That chance arose that spring. He got a call while in class and was told to report to the football office afterward. He found himself face-to-face with head coach George O’Leary.
“[O’Leary] said, `I don’t have a punter for spring practice. I’ve recruited a punter to be the punter next year, but I need someone for practice. You’re on the team, 5 a.m. workouts tomorrow,'” Dyke recalled. “I walked out of there like, `Wow. I’m on the team.'”
He would never leave it. Dyke, who gave credit to fellow class of 2015 Tech Athletics Hall of Famer Joe Burns for making him feel at home in those early practices, made himself at home once he got on the field for the Jackets.
He debuted blasting 30 punts an average of 43.80 yards per kick, still the fifth-best season in school history. He averaged 41.8 and 41.2 yards per attempt his next two years and 39.3 his final season for a 41.4 yards per punt average, while putting 40 of his 132 kicks inside the 20. He still has two of the top five punting games in school history (55.3 vs. Clemson on Sept. 29, 2001, third, and 54.5, Oct. 16, 1999 at Duke, tied for fifth with Williams). He ranks ninth in school history in career punting yards (5,461), 10th in career punts (132), and his career-long kick of 68 yards, against Florida State on Sept. 9, 2000, is tied for 14th.
He saved some of his best kicks for FSU. His busiest day (seven punts), most yards (332) and long kick (the 68-yarder) all came on against the Seminoles, on Sept. 9, 2000, when the Jackets gave the second-ranked team in the nation all it could handle before falling 26-20 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I always loved playing against FSU just because I was from Florida, I grew up a Gator fan, my dad was a Gator,” he said. “So I grew up with a little bit of a dislike for FSU. I always was super-excited to play FSU.”
While he had the utmost respect for Rodney Williams, Dyke did his best to topple him from the record books. He finished his career ranked second all-time in punting average (41.37), a mere 5/100ths of a yard behind Williams and actually entered his final career game, the Silicon Valley Classic, ahead of him.
“I’m never upset or bitter about that because I looked up to Rodney when he was on the team, and Rodney, when I made the team, helped me out a lot, and talked with me and worked with me,” he said. “I was probably just disappointed with myself, for how it ended, to have the record the whole career and then the last game they start counting bowl statistics. It was funny.”
Ironically, the Silicon Valley Classic was the only bowl game of the four in which Dyke played that counted in his career yardage. Of course, that close second became moot in 2007, when Durant Brooks concluded his career by setting the record for longest career average in Georgia Tech history (45.31). But his place in school history is still something he appreciates.
“What an honor to be up there with all the great punters in Georgia Tech history,” Dyke said. “I got to meet and talk with Durant Brooks, He’s one of the best punters we’ve ever had. I loved to watch him punt.”
The football side was only half of what made Dyke special. He was the standard for student-athletes, achieving Academic All-America status all four seasons he played.
“I walked onto the football team, so when I went to Georgia Tech, it was primarily for academics,” he said. “I was lucky. In school, math and engineering always came easy to me in terms of grasping the concepts. But Georgia Tech is a hard school, so it took a lot of work. There were a lot of nights where I was up until 2 or 3 a.m. working on a project and then up early the next day for a workout or practice or what-not. It was a time-management thing. You had to make sure you had your priorities in line, balance it.
“A lot of time I remember football actually helped me out a lot,” he added. “When you’re a teenager or in your young 20s in college and you don’t have some structure there are a lot of other things you can get into that are distracting. Football was always something where there was always somewhere or some place I had to be, and I had to be in a good frame of mind so it helped me a lot to keep the academics in line and vice versa.”
Dyke would help out his peers, off the field, serving as a teaching assistant to a group of 25-to-30 freshmen as a fifth-year senior. It was a semester that was mutually beneficial to him and his students.
“They would meet twice a week and we would go over problems related to the assignment that they were working on. I remember I had a pretty bright group of kids in that class, and I enjoyed that a lot,” he recalled. “What I learned from that is to be a good teacher you have to put yourself in someone else’s mind. You have to understand how they think then you can approach it and find the best way to teach them. So I learned a lot from just doing that for the short amount of time that I did it.”
That one semester, as well as his ability to handle numbers and probabilities, has come in quite handy in his current “hobby.” When he’s not serving as dad to his young son and daughter, his primary focus, he’s trying his hand at professional poker. It’s something he’s done for around 10 years, after not even playing until he got to graduate school.
“I wouldn’t call it a full-time gig. Right now my wife’s kind of given me the blessing to be a stay-at-home dad and then kind of play poker as a hobby,” he said. “I think poker just appeals to me because a lot of the skills needed to be good at it are skills that I just kind of naturally have and are things that I enjoy doing, too. I’m good with numbers, obviously there are math skills in poker and then you have to be able to read people well, too. Going back to teaching calculus, I told you what I learned from that was you have to be able to put yourself in a person’s mind, understand how they’re trying to approach and think something. There’s that similar skill in poker, too. So I’m lucky in that.
“I’m lucky my wife is supportive of that,” he added, with a laugh. “As you can imagine there aren’t many women that would be supportive of them working full-time while their husband stays home with the kids and gambles.”
While he’s won a couple of smaller tournaments, Dyke said there’s no comparison to winning at Georgia Tech.
“Winning football games at Georgia Tech is WAY more exciting than winning a poker tournament,” he said. “Maybe one day I’ll change my mind if I win a really big one, but there is nothing that can beat just being out there on the field. You work hard for months, sweating, working out there together as a team and then preparing the week before a game and then going out there and having a big win and getting to celebrate that with your teammates and all the fans, seeing the fans excited, poker can’t come close to that. The whole experience was amazing. Having teammates, close bonds with the teammates I still have to this day with several guys, and just getting to be a part of Georgia Tech football and the tradition was awesome.”
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