The Chaney High graduate played in his first game for the Cardinals on Sunday.
By JOE SCALZO
Vindicator sports staff
Keilen Dykes was doing sit-ups in the Arizona Cardinals’ weight room on Sept. 15 when head coach Ken Whisenhunt approached him and said, “We’re moving you up.”
Dykes, a Chaney High graduate, spent the first year of his NFL career on the Cardinals’ practice squad during their Super Bowl season, biding his time as he waited for (what he thought would be) a place on the team’s active roster this fall.
Then, on Sept. 5 — NFL cutdown day — Dykes was waived, then re-signed to the practice squad. His parents, James and Jewell, had already bought plane tickets to Arizona for its opener and spent that weekend with their son.
They were still in town two days later when their son got the message he’d been waiting his whole life to hear.
“I played it real cool until I got home,” Dykes said by phone this week. “When I told them, they were really pumped up and jumping around.
“It was really exciting. It’s a good feeling.”
Dykes played about 20 snaps in last weekend’s 31-17 win at Jacksonville, recording one tackle from his defensive tackle position.
“It felt a little different at first because I haven’t played a real, real game since college,” said Dykes, a two-time All-Big East selection at West Virginia. “It felt so good to be playing for something meaningful.
“I thought I played well. I did what I was supposed to do. I didn’t do bad for the first game. The first time you play, the speed of the game is a lot faster than what I was used to. I thought I held my own and I’ll get better this week for Sunday night’s game.”
Dykes has already been told he’ll be active again Sunday night as the Cardinals play host to the Indianapolis Colts. Unlike the Jaguars game, which was only televised regionally, Sunday’s game will be nationally televised by NBC.
As for the rest of the season? Dykes isn’t sure.
One of the reasons for his promotion was to fill in for injured defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema, who is still battling a sprained ankle. (Dykes felt the other side of this during the preseason when he missed several weeks with a quadricep injury, which was the main reason he was cut.)
“The NFL is a funny business,” he said. “You never know what will happen. I don’t ask questions. I know I’ll be playing this week and I just go to work and do what I do.
“I just take it day by day and I keep praying I’ll still have a job.”
For now, Dykes is just grateful for the opportunity to be in the NFL. Only about 2.5 percent of Division I college players make it to the NFL and Dykes is grateful to be among them.
“It’s a very small percentage that make it, so to be able to say I was one of them means a lot to me,” he said. “I’ve always said my dream was to play in the NFL and I accomplished that.”
Coincidentally, another player with Youngstown ties made his NFL debut last weekend. Former Youngstown State running back Marcus Mason, who spent his first two years in the league either on the practice squad or watching from the sidelines, was activated by the Washington Redskins and carried the ball three times for 5 yards in a 9-7 win over the Rams.
Like Mason, Dykes didn’t let long odds or setbacks keep him from his dream.
“I never had a doubt in my mind that I would make it,” he said. “I just stayed patient, kept working and kept praying. And I know I had people like my grandma praying for me.
“You just have to wait for your opportunity. When it comes knocking, you have to take hold of it and take advantage of it. That’s what I tried to do.”