Virginia Tech keen on Dalton Keene, the team’s ‘Rambo’ and ‘Swiss Army Knife’
BLACKSBURG – Bud Foster first noted Dalton Keene’s toughness well over a decade ago.
Keene’s father, Wes, had just flung the small child off Foster’s boat and into the water at Claytor Lake. Dalton Keene landed hard on his back, popped right out of the water and started wailing.
“Wes grabs Dalton and kind of flips him up and he spins around and boy, belly flops or landed on his back,” Foster, Virginia Tech’s longtime defensive coordinator, recalled Tuesday. “But he no sooner than hit that water than he jumped up and he was just screaming bloody murder. And that’s when Stacy, Wes’ wife, I’ve never seen a woman beat a guy so much in my life. But I saw some toughness out of Dalton at that time right there.”
The younger Keene vaguely recalls the incident, though he’s heard the story retold enough times to be able to share it.
“I think I was scared to jump,” Keene said Tuesday. “I remember coming out of the water just screaming. I remember my mom kind of getting after him a little bit over that.”
Dalton Keene grew up a fan of the Hokies. Wes Keene’s college teammate and roommate at Murray State, Charley Wiles, is the team’s defensive line coach. Foster was the elder Keene’s position coach with the Racers.
Wiles’ family and the Keene’s frequently vacationed together, sometimes with Foster’s family, as well.
“I’ve got pictures of us on the lake with our kids, 2, 3, 4 years old,” Wiles said Tuesday. “I felt confident that we would get Dalton because of the family and Dalton was driven by that as well.”
It wasn’t until Dalton Keene reached the 10th grade that Wiles started viewing him, not just as a family friend, but as a college football prospect. Wiles said he was pretty sure Tech would land Keene, who ended up choosing the Hokies over Nebraska and Colorado State.
“I’ve grown up a fan of Virginia Tech my entire life,” Keene said. “We already had that relationship formed.”
Foster liked Keene as a linebacker prospect, but in the end, Tech signed him as a tight end.
This year, Keene is one 10 true freshmen who have already played for the No. 13 Hokies (3-0) as they head into Saturday’s game against Old Dominion (2-1) at Lane Stadium. Saturday, at East Carolina, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound caught his first career pass, a 14-yard reception in the first quarter that helped set up Tech’s second touchdown.
Wes Keene was in the stands at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C., for that game. He’ll be at Lane on Saturday. In fact, Wiles said his friend skipped taking any summer vacation so that he could travel to attend every one of the Hokies’ games this season – home and away.
By earning a starting spot as a tight end/H-back, his son has made that decision worth it.
Nicknamed Rambo by his Tech teammates, both for his long hair and adventurous and aggressive demeanor, Dalton Keene played tight end, running back and linebacker as a high schooler growing up in Littleton, Co., while also competing on the Chatfield High School track and field team.
He became an avid snowboarder, though he gave that up once he realized he had a future playing football.
“I figured it wasn’t the best for my football career,” Keene said. “I don’t make the smartest decisions when I’m strapped up to a snowboard.”
And Keene does take that seriously. He graduated high school early so he could enroll at Virginia Tech last spring and go through practices. It gave up him a head start, not just on adjusting to college, but in learning the complexities of the H-back position, the “Swiss Army knife of our offense.”
“I’ve been really pleased with how he handled the game plan from week to week and the adjustments that come from that position,” Tech second-year coach Justin Fuente said. “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 who can handle that.”