UCLA's Dye Ready To Rumble
By Brian Price
After this season, expect football programs to start looking to former hockey players to fill out their defenses.
UCLA defensive captain Tony Dye, once a top recruit for the University of Minnesota hockey team, now credits his days on the ice for helping to build the toughness needed to be successful on the gridiron.
"I still have all my teeth and I never lost a fight," beams Dye, who played in the Jr. Youth Hockey World Championship game versus the Czech Republic.
Despite countless bumps and bruises over a span of 28 straight starts for the Bruins, Dye finally had to sit out this past Saturday's contest against Pac-12 conference foe Oregon State, a decision he described as "one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life."
"In high school football you're generally playing at 80 to 90 percent health-wise. In college it's more like 70 to 80 percent, and in the (NFL) it's closer to 60 percent," Dye says. "Playing hurt is just part of the game as you get older, so it's important to have toughness."
UCLA proved their moxie without their captain and will now receive a much-needed boost when Dye, now recovered from his shoulder injury, returns to the lineup this Saturday against Heisman favorite Andrew Luck and the No. 6 Stanford Cardinal.
"It sounds cliché, but we are getting better every week in minimizing mistakes," says Dye, who is adamant that his squad has underachieved. "We are not a .500 football team and our record [of 2-2] is not indicative of who we are."
Overall, Dye believes that the team needs to have more of a sense of urgency on defense going forward.
"Everybody needs to run to the ball on every play. If we give up a 30-yard pass down the sidelines we can still run to the ball, stop the receiver on the 1-yard line, and cause a fumble on the next play," Dye says. "Good things happen when we run the ball down."
Never giving up on a play is a function of maturity and something Dye now strives to pass on to the younger members of the defense, particularly redshirt freshman safety Tevin McDonald and redshirt sophomore safety Alex Mascarenas.
Both underclassmen started last week against Oregon State University and the injured Dye took it upon himself to make sure they were ready.
"We watched a lot of extra film together and I made sure [they were] comfortable with every aspect of the defense [leading into this past Saturday's game] against Oregon State University so they could go out and perform," Dye says.
Both underclassmen stepped up, combining for 11 total tackles, two of which went for losses, in the 27-19 win over the Beavers.
Dye is eager to see the Bruins continue to mature and turn corners. The ability to do so will be in large part due to the coaching abilities of defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, who joined the Bruins this season after successful stops at the University of Cincinnati and the University of South Florida.
"I've never met anybody with his level of football knowledge and I've become a much better player since he got here," says Dye. "He's a prototypical old-school coach: the whistle on a long key-chain who's constantly screaming, but he'll always end with a hug. Coach Tresey is about building young men, and I love the guy."
The sentiment between player and coach is mutual.
"Tony is a jewel to coach and is such an important part of this team," Tresey says. "He buys into everything we do, not just defensively, but in the bigger picture for the team. Every day he comes to practice with the mindset to improve and help this team be its best."
In Tresey's defensive scheme, where the safety is making the majority of the calls, Dye relishes his role.
"I always describe what I'm doing as 'the last line of defense.' The free safety is the quarterback of the defense. I see everything and make a lot of the calls and our success depends on my ability to react in certain situations," says Dye, who led the team last year with 96 total tackles as strong safety.
This season, Dye has stepped into his new role at free safety with enthusiasm. The position, formally held by Rahim Moore (now with the Denver Broncos), presents an exciting opportunity for Dye to spend more time following the ball and less time getting cracked by blocking tight ends, which is common for a strong safety.
"Last year, I'd sometimes have to roll out of bed onto the floor and do a push-up just to be able to stand up. I felt like a 43-year-old man," Dye laughs.
Now Dye is excited for the opportunities his new position can offer.
"I'm dying for my first [interception of the year]. Unfortunately, we haven't seen any downfield passing yet. I'm in the post just waiting for one," he says.
He might get his chance when the Bruins visit the Cardinal and stack up against a passing attack that ranks ninth in the nation in overall efficiency and scoring offense.
"[Picking off Andrew Luck] would be like a fairy tale. I'd definitely keep that football for my parents," Dye says. "Stanford's got players with a mindset that they're never going to be beat. We want to match that mindset this week. Our preparation has been geared towards building the confidence that we can beat them."
Expect some fireworks in Palo Alto when UCLA takes on Stanford at 7:30 p.m. PT on FSN.