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In life, it’s all about who you know. In the recruitment of Dalton Keene, Virginia Tech knew the right people.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive line coach Charley Wiles have known Keene’s father, Wes, for quite some time. Wes Keene played under Foster and alongside Wiles at Murray State in the mid-1980s, when Frank Beamer was the head coach. Keene, a linebacker and defensive end, and Wiles, an offensive lineman, were roommates, and the two have remained close since.
By extension, Foster and Wiles have known Dalton for his entire life. In fact, Foster vividly remembers Wes tossing Dalton off of Foster’s boat on Claytor Lake when he was very young.
“Next thing you know, Wes grabs Dalton and kind of throws him up, and he spins around, the boy belly flops or lands on his back, I can’t remember,” Foster said. “He didn’t no sooner hit that water and he jumped up, and he was just screaming bloody murder. That’s when Stacy, Wes’ wife, I mean I never saw a woman beat a guy so much in in my life. But I saw some toughness out of Dalton right there.”
“I remember coming out of the water, just screaming, and then I remember my mom getting after him a little bit over that,” Dalton said. “So Mom is definitely in charge when it comes to that kind of stuff.”
When it came time for Keene’s recruitment, Virginia Tech had the ‘in.” Wiles brought up Keene to the coaching staff for evaluation, and sounded confident that Virginia Tech could earn Keene’s commitment.
“He didn’t call the shot, but he said, ‘If we like him, I feel pretty good that we’re going to have a chance to get him.’ I think in Charley’s exact words, he’s absolutely a no-brainer in terms of work ethic, character and toughness, and when we took that evaluation and combined it with what we saw on film, we offered him,” Fuente said. “Brought him out here, or I shouldn’t say brought him out here, they came out here and got it done.”
Keene, who hails from Littleton, Colorado, actually grew up a Virginia Tech fan. Despite having offers from Nebraska, Colorado, Colorado State, Michigan and more, the Hokies were always the top contender.
“I’ve grown up a fan of Virginia Tech my entire life,” Keene said. “It was obviously a really big part, and we already had that relationship formed, so it was just a matter of me getting out here, getting to see the campus, and obviously I wanted to meet Fuente and Coach (Cornelsen), but that was a huge part in my decision.”
That toughness Dalton Keene showed as a kid is now on full display at Virginia Tech. Keene enrolled in January with the Hokies, and has quickly become a reliable contributor. Keene gave credit to Virginia Tech’s winter strength and conditioning program for getting him in playing shape.
“It was awesome,” Keene said. “I’ve been working out, like my whole life, but once I got here it was just a whole new level. The nutrition was also incredible, so I really took huge strides in that field ever since I got here.”
Keene took advantage of being with the team for spring practices, and was one of the more consistent players in the annual Spring Game. Keene made four receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown, and is now one of the primary players at tight end/H-back. He seems to be adapting to the role well, despite just making one reception all season. Still, Keene has displayed his versatility as a receiver and a blocker, something the H-back position requires.
“We do everything,” Keene said. “We block, run routes, and it was really helpful playing a lot of positions in high school. I’m able to do a lot of stuff, which is also part of why I came here. I liked the versatility of the H-back position.”
“I think he’s continued to improve,” Fuente said of Keene. “I’ve been really pleased with how he’s handled gameplanning from week to week, and the adjustments that come with that position. We’ve talked a little bit about it. Center, quarterback and H-back are kind of the three most difficult spots on our offense, that require the most adjustments, the most overall, big-picture knowledge. It’s very rare to have a true-freshman that can handle that, and he’s done a really good job because those things change from week to week, via gameplan and looks.”
Keene is also earning the trust of his quarterback, Josh Jackson. And maybe that trust will earn Keene a few more targets.
“He’s picking up the offense pretty well,” Jackson said. “Like his position is pretty hard, when it comes to blocking the right guy and everything like that, coming off a different look. I think he’s picked that up very well, and he’s been consistent with it.”