If you saw sophomore forward Daryl Dike walking down the street, you might think he was a football linebacker rather than one of Virginia’s best mens’ soccer players. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Dike is built differently than most soccer players — at the college or professional level.
Due to his uncharacteristic physique, he receives the same criticism time and time again — he is oversized for his sport. Most people with his dimensions would be awkward and clumsy, and their lack of agility would prevent success at the competitive levels, especially in a high-octane sport like soccer.
Yet Dike’s size is what makes him so special. His style of play seems to defy the laws of physics and push the boundaries of physical athleticism. While Dike’s strength and build is what jumps out at you, this is not the only thing that sets Dike apart from the competition.
While soccer players are characteristically smaller, Dike’s size is an incredible asset, and he knows it.
“Everyone has their advantages and disadvantages, and I definitely think my size is more of an advantage for me,” Dike said.
However, size alone is no recipe for success. The players that make it big are those that can pair this asset with their skills. Coach George Gelnovatch is well aware of this and has been concentrated on developing other aspects of Dike’s game ever since he joined the team.
“[Dike’s strength] is a massive asset to have if you can be good technically, and be good with intelligence and movements, because just that strength is not going to be good enough at the next level, so he’s going to have to develop those other things, which he’s been doing,” Gelnovatch said.
And Dike’s work on his agility and shooting in order to complement his strength has paid off. Despite being one of the tallest players in every game and weighing over 50 pounds more than the average player on the U.Va. roster, he can shoot like a striker, dribble like a midfielder and run like a winger.
More than just a well-rounded striker, Dike is also the embodiment of hard work. According to Dike, he has always been one of the biggest and strongest players on the pitch, and he attributes that to hard work in the gym and on the track. In fact, Dike ran track in high school which has more than adequately prepared him to use repeated bursts of speed to chase down through balls and crosses.
However, consistently exerting that much effort requires Dike to take careful precautions to keep him healthy.
“I’m a bigger body so I have to make sure I stretch all the time, so I stretch and roll out before I go to bed, and in the morning … I try to make sure I eat right, the nutrition people here have me eating a good diet — it’s good, it’s kept me in shape,” Dike said.
While Gelnovatch understands Dike’s potential, he is making sure to do everything he can to help Dike maximize that potential and avoid complacency.
“His technique, his runs, his movement, his body shape, his touch when he receives the ball are the things he needs to work on if he wants to get to the next level,” Gelnovatch said. “He still has some maturing to do, just like everybody else, but he works hard all the time. He’s that type of guy and that mentality is important.”
As for Dike, playing professionally has been a lifelong dream. The youngest of five siblings, Dike was raised in a soccer-loving family.
His brother, Bright Dike, was the starting striker for Notre Dame in college, scoring 27 goals in 86 appearances, before going professional and playing for a number of teams in the MLS, Russia and Malaysia. His sister, Courtney Dike, was the starting forward for Oklahoma State University. Additionally, both siblings have made appearances for the Nigerian national team.
To cap it all off, Dike is also cousins with Emmanuel Emenike, who has had an impressive professional career playing for multiple division one clubs in Europe, including Premier League club West Ham United.
“Honestly, anywhere,” Dike said, when asked if he had any preference on where he would want to play. “Anywhere I would love to play, whether it would be in the MLS, I know my dream has always been to play in Europe, but you obviously have to start somewhere after U.Va., so anywhere would be a blessing.”
Dike can be proud of what he has achieved so far. As a freshman, Dike was the team co-leader in goals scored and was a member of the ACC All-Freshman team.
Heading into the ACC championship game, Dike already has seven goals, two more than last year, and seven assists. In the ACC quarterfinals, in which Virginia beat Syracuse in a 2-1 thriller, Dike drew the penalty that Joe Bell converted for the first goal of the game and assisted the game winner in the 18th minute.
Overall, it’s safe to say that in the last two years, Dike has made waves in college soccer and is now looking to lead the Cavaliers to their eighth NCAA championship.
As the primary playmaker on the team, junior midfielder Joe Bell couldn’t wish for anything more from the forward.
“I think he’s a bit of a cheat code especially at this level,” Bell said. “His ability to not only hold up the ball but his ability to connect a pass and understand the game is fantastic.”
Dike’s athleticism also makes it easier for the team to get creative on the offensive front.
“With Daryl you don’t always have to play it at his feet, which is actually a nice thing to have,” Bell said. “You can just put it into space and give him a chance to run it down and make something happen, which as a midfielder is kind of the best thing, when you’re getting pressed, and you know you have someone up there that can win something for you.”
The Cavaliers have proven they are one of the most dominant teams in the nation this year, and their sights are firmly set on a national championship. As for Dike, the expectations for the remainder of the season are clear — “win everything.”