ABINGDON, Va. – At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Abingdon senior Dylan Hale commands attention on the football field.
But his authority extends beyond football.
For the past two years, Hale has anchored the defense for the Abingdon soccer team at the keeper position.
“There are not many keepers with my size, so I definitely try to use that to my advantage,” Hale said.
Hale was one of the most dominant defensive players in far Southwest Virginia football last season. Working at end, the All-Region 3D selection collected 23 tackles for loss and 19 solo stops.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t begin playing the sport until the eighth grade.
From age 3 on, Hale competed with the Abingdon-based Highlands Soccer Club.
“I gained my love of soccer from my mom,” Hale said. “I played in some travel tournaments in surrounding states and constantly tried to improve skills.”
At the urging of his father, Hale finally gave football a try.
Despite missing nearly all of his freshman season due to a broken finger, Hale has emerged as a force on both sides of the line for AHS and will be one of headliners for tonight’s Mountain 7 District game at Gate City.
So is there a carryover between the two sports?
“Yes. My teammates kid me at times but the workouts and conditioning from soccer have made me 10 times more agile in football and football has helped me to be more aggressive on the soccer field,” Hale said. “Most keepers are timid, but my football background works for me.”
In the spring, Hale balances his time with morning weight training sessions for football before joining the soccer team in the afternoon.
Abingdon has a history of success in soccer and crossover athletes have been common.
In addition to Hale, the 2019 AHS football roster includes Falcon soccer players turned kickers Graham Griffith and Max Jessee. Griffith connected on 29 extra points and three field goals last season.
“Graham and I grew up playing soccer,” Hale said. “We’ve had a lot of good times.”
For now, Hale is focused on football. This past summer he accepted invitations to six football camps where he showcased his skills at schools such as Davidson, East Tennessee State and Appalachian State.
“We were all grinding and dying in the heat while working for the same prize,” Hale said. “It’s tough, but fun at the same time.”
Hale is a three-year starter on defense for the Falcons and a returning starter on offense where he excels at right guard.
Motivation has come from AHS strength coach and football assistant Chase Nunley.
“Coach Nunley has been a big help,” Hale said. “We lifted four days a week over the summer and we’re still going hard in the mornings to get better.”
From quicker bursts to increased leverage, Hale said his summer of sacrifice has produced results.
“I’ve added nearly 20 pounds of muscle and my bench press is up to around 315,” Hale said. “That’s made a difference.”
The daily workout partner for Hale is standout offensive linemen Major Cook, a 6-3, 302-pound senior who has attracted interest from Ivy League football programs.
For Hale, one aspect of the high school football experience stands out. It involves the pre-game routine where the Falcons walk through the stands to the iconic strains of “Sandman” by Metallica.
“Walking past our fans, running through the Falcon inflatable and then looking up from the field and seeing the stands full. There’s no other feeling like that. It’s amazing,” Hale said.
While Hale hopes to find a spot with a college football program next fall, he’s eager for one more season as the enforcer of the AHS soccer team.
“I still have that love of the game,” he said.