By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE– At Scott Stadium, he would not look out of place at linebacker.
At Klöckner Stadium, he dwarfs virtually everyone else on the field. But there’s much more to University of Virginia soccer player Daryl Dike than his 6-2, 225-pound frame.
Dike, a freshman striker, is tied with classmate Cabrel Happi Kamseu for the team lead with five goals.
“For a guy his size, he can turn, and he’s nimble,” UVA head coach George Gelnovatch said.
Dike, whose parents are from Nigeria, was born and raised in Edmond, Okla., near Oklahoma City. He’s the youngest of five children. His oldest sibling (and only brother), Bright, starred in soccer for Notre Dame and played professionally in MLS and in Europe.
“He was a handful,” Gelnovatch said of Bright Dike, who later played for Nigeria’s national team. “He was an absolute beast.”
The elder Dike was listed at 6-1, 223 pounds when he played at Notre Dame. His college career included a game in Charlottesville. His sophomore season ended in November 2006 with a 3-2 loss to Virginia at Klöckner Stadium in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Bright Dike, who played striker, scored 27 goals for the Fighting Irish. He now works as a cloud security engineer in Washington, D.C., and closely follows his kid brother’s career.
“I’m really excited,” Bright said, “because I wasn’t as good as Daryl was at his age, and you see how far I went. I think he has all the tools to go and play at a very high level in the future and even surpass me.”
His advice to Daryl?
“Make sure you’re taking notes and learning from all the players on your team,” Bright said. “As a soccer player, you have to grow as you keep playing. Always have that hunger to keep growing and get better.
“I should be able to look at you at a month from now and say you’ve improved in this area and that area.”
Like his brother before him, Daryl Dike starred at Edmond North High and had an opportunity to play at Notre Dame.
“It was a school I considered heavily. Obviously, everybody was thinking that I would want to go there, because Bright went there, and it’s a fantastic school,” Daryl said, “but I chose [Virginia]. I enjoy it here.”
The football coaches at Edmond North tried to interest Dike in coming out for the team. His parents weren’t enthusiastic. “They think there’s too many injuries and concussions and things like that in football,” Dike said. “They told me to stick to soccer, and obviously it worked out. I’m at a great school.”
The Dikes take education seriously.
“If you weren’t getting good grades in school, it wasn’t acceptable basically,” Bright said. “It was instilled in us from day one as little kids.”
Bright graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in business administration-information technology. Daryl’s sisters Kimberly and Brittny graduated from Oklahoma. Kimberly attended medical school at Drexel and is in residency in Houston. Brittny works in a hospital and is applying to medical school.
Daryl’s other sister, Courtney, is certified public accountant. She starred in soccer at Oklahoma State and has played for Nigeria’s national women’s team.
“My siblings set a big example for me, because all of them are doing good things,” said Daryl, who hopes to be admitted to UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce.
On the soccer pitch, Dike has filled a void in one of the nation’s storied programs.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him,” Gelnovatch said, “but we have been looking for the things he offers, and we haven’t had that in a while.
“Will Bates is probably the closest. Adam Cristman back in the day had a little bit of that in him, too.”
It’s not easy, Gelnovatch said, to find big forwards “who can play with their back to the goal and turn and be nimble. He’s got some things he’s got to work on in that regard, but he has it. Guys bounce off of him like saddlebags. He knows how to pin a guy on his hip and turn him. He embraces the contact. He likes the contact.”
Gelnovatch was one of those big forwards when he starred for head coach Bruce Arena at UVA. The 6-3 Gelnovatch, who played at about 195 pounds, ranks fifth in career points (118) and fifth in career goals (49) at Virginia.
Dike is well aware of Gelnovatch’s feats as a Cavalier.
“He tells me great information about how to be a striker, because he’s been through it,” Dike said. “He knows exactly how it is. He was a fantastic striker, so he kind of helps me know good movements, good technique and everything like that. It’s helped me better myself throughout the year.”
Dike said he makes sure to keep his weight around 225 pounds, “because it becomes harder to move or be as mobile when you’re heavier. At the same time, I think my size is something that’s a big part of how I play. I obviously use my size to my advantage.”
The Wahoos are in the NCAA tournament for the 38thstraight year. As the No. 10 seed, Virginia earned a first-round bye. UVA (9-3-3) hosts Furman (13-6-2) in a second-round game Sunday at 1 p.m. at Klöckner Stadium.
Furman slipped past host UNC Wilmington in a penalty-kick shootout Thursday night.
The Cavaliers haven’t played since Oct. 31, when Pittsburgh upset them in the ACC tournament. Since then, they’ve mixed intense training with mental and physical breaks.
“It’s different,” Dike said of the long layoff, “but I also think it was well-needed. It gave us a long time to recoup and get back up to running speed.”
Dike was one of four Cavaliers named to the ACC’s All-Freshman team this month, along with Happi Kamseu, Aboubacar Keita and Daniel Steedman.
Each will make his NCAA tournament debut Sunday. Virginia’s veterans remember what happened in last year’s NCAAs. After drawing a first-round bye, UVA lost at home to unheralded Fordham.
“Everybody has talked about how every single team [in the NCAA tourney] is going to be good,” Dike said. “You can’t take any team for granted, any game for granted. You’ve got to come out like you’re playing the men’s national team, the best team you’re going to play, because you never know.”
Bright Dike plans to be in the stands Sunday at Klöckner Stadium, cheering on Daryl. Bright played in four NCAA tournaments during his career at Notre Dame, and he’s discussed the postseason with his brother.
“He emphasizes how every game could be your last [of the season], so don’t come off the field thinking, ‘I should have done this, I should have done that,’ ” Daryl said. “Leave everything on the field. He also says the focus for everyone is going to be way higher than normal, so I’ve got to be just as focused as everyone else.”