CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Like all the best mythology, Tyler Van Dyke‘s origin story is grounded in truth, but the details took on a life of their own.
It was October 2021, and Miami was 2-4, teetering on the brink of a lost season, and Van Dyke — the starter at quarterback by default after veteran D’Eriq King was lost to injury — said something foolish. Or, perhaps, brilliant. At the time, it could’ve gone either way.
“Yeah, NC State has a great defense,” he told local reporters in the run up to the Hurricanes’ game against the then No. 18 Wolfpack. “That doesn’t matter. They’re still the same guys we played last year. We put up 44 points on them. We feel really confident.”
Confidence might be one way to put it. Ignorance might be another.
Van Dyke was set to make just his third career start. In the first two, he’d completed less than half his throws. The most recent game, a loss to North Carolina, ended with three interceptions. Who was this guy talking smack on anyone, let alone a ranked NC State?
The quote caught fire and, soon enough, NC State had its bulletin board material and Van Dyke became Enemy No. 1.
The next day, then-head coach Manny Diaz held a team meeting. On the board at the front of the room was Van Dyke’s quote. Fighting words, he said. The QB picked the fight, now Miami, a team that had been among the most disappointing in the country, had to have his back.
Lo and behold, it ignited a spark. Van Dyke threw a pair of first-half touchdowns and led a second-half comeback as Miami came away with a 31-30 win.
Then the Hurricanes won again. And again. And finished by winning five of their last six, while Van Dyke blossomed into one of the most dominant QBs in the country, throwing for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in six straight games — just the second Power 5 QB of the playoff era to do that. The other was Joe Burrow.
“It was a turning point for us,” Diaz said.
Only, Van Dyke never meant to talk smack. He was hoping to make a point that his team wasn’t as bad as its record and that he truly believed they could win. He was just talking, and the words came out a little different than they sounded in his head. Rookie mistake.
“I didn’t want to hurt their feelings or whatever,” Van Dyke said this summer. “I was just frustrated with ourselves.”
Too late. The legend was born. Van Dyke was the guy who called his shot then delivered — and kept delivering. And at a place like Miami, a program desperate for a taste of the old days when no one had more swagger and no one backed up that swagger better, Van Dyke was an instant sensation. Never mind the truth. The story was better.
And then the season ended: Diaz was fired, the school brought in a big-name coach in Mario Cristobal and a big-name athletic director in Dan Radakovich, and committed to a massive investment in rejuvenating a stagnant football program. Finally, after two decades in the wilderness, the pieces appeared to be in place for Miami to fulfill its promise. They had the coach, the money and, undoubtedly now, they had the QB.
But all of that is beyond the scope of what Van Dyke’s concerns are this season. He actually deleted Twitter at the start of fall camp. He doesn’t want to know what the public thinks of him or his team. The goal isn’t to win the Heisman Trophy or lead Miami back to the promised land. It’s to say what’s on his mind, the same as he did before that fateful NC State game, then go out and play with the same natural confidence and trust that the guys around him will have his back.
“I needed to play like I was playing my entire life,” Van Dyke said. “I just have to trust these guys and go do it.”
HOW IS IT that a QB who’d never won a game as a starter suddenly blossomed into one of the best statistical passers in the country virtually overnight? His roommate (and, often, the de facto publicist for the understated QB) Xavier Restrepo has an idea. It goes back to a round of golf they played this summer.
Van Dyke is an avid golfer. The sport suits his personality. It requires a calm demeanor, a steady hand and a willingness to forget a bad shot to focus on the next — the same skills Van Dyke thinks he needs to be successful in football. Last season, he played nine holes every Thursday before a game, just to relax and clear his head. He’s close to a scratch golfer now. (He shot a 74 recently at Sarasota National.)
Restrepo had never picked up a set of clubs before last summer but Van Dyke always had it on the TV around the house, and so Restrepo happened to catch the final round of the 2021 U.S. Open, when Jon Rahm birdied the final two holes to take the win. He was riveted, and when it was over, he drove to Dick’s Sporting Goods, picked up a set of Top Flight clubs and asked Van Dyke if he could start tagging along.
“I was horrible that first time,” Restrepo said.
But Restrepo improved — “Tyler said it was the fastest he’d ever seen somebody get good,” Restrepo brags — and the pair became fixtures on courses around south Florida.
The roommates are immensely competitive. If there’s a ball or a video game controller within arm’s reach, they’re competing, and the way Restrepo tells it is, if he’s having a good day on the course and Van Dyke’s a little off his game, the scores are close enough to talk some smack.
That’s the type of game Van Dyke enjoys. He feeds off the drama, the doubt.
“We’ll be playing NBA 2K, and we’ll be blowing people out, and he’ll let them come back,” Restrepo said. “He just plays with fire.”
Van Dyke and Restrepo had gone golfing with two of Miami’s punters this summer — a scramble, most holes wins — and after seven holes, they were already up five. Boring, Van Dyke thought.
“He starts chunking shots on purpose,” Restrepo said. “He’s laughing about it.”
The plan backfired though. After 15, Restrepo and Van Dyke were down two holes. The pressure was on.
On 16, Van Dyke drains a birdie to take the hole.
On 17, he does it again — sinks a putt from 10 feet out. They’re tied.
Last hole, Van Dyke steps to the tee and — shanks it.
“Flubs the drive,” Restrepo said, “and we lost. He was mad.”
Now, here’s where Van Dyke wants to make something clear: This was “just a fun game with our punters.” He’d never do this in football. If he has a chance to beat a team by 100, that’s what he’s going to do. No fooling around. Football is all business.
Of course, Miami wasn’t beating anyone by 100 last season. Every game was a nail-biter, and Van Dyke was playing catch-up from the moment he took over as starter. And sure, it might’ve been a whole lot easier if he’d had the job from the outset of the season, and if Miami hadn’t started 2-4, and if Diaz hadn’t spent months on the verge of being fired. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun to then do the impossible.
Restrepo remembers Van Dyke grabbing him in the locker room after Miami toppled No. 17 Pitt, a chorus of jeers raining down on the Canes throughout the game.
“Bro,” Van Dyke said, “I love getting booed.”
That’s what drives Van Dyke, his roommate said. He needs the obstacle so he has something to overcome. Back against the wall, no other option but to deliver his absolute best performance — for Van Dyke, there’s nothing quite like that feeling.
“He would want to be down 21 going against the No. 1 team in the country at their house,” Restrepo said. “That’s the dream he goes to sleep at night with.”
WHEN VAN DYKE and Restrepo first got to Miami, they made a habit of getting in late-night throwing sessions. They’d arrive at the team’s indoor practice facility at 11 p.m., flip on the lights and throw.
At the time, the goal was simple. Van Dyke and Restrepo were backups, and they needed to make an impression.
“I hate losing, hate doing bad,” Van Dyke said. “Back then, I was just trying to do what I can do to get on the field — just not caring, gripping the ball and do what I do best.”
It worked. On the practice field, they absolutely tortured the Canes’ No. 2 defense, and when called upon to join the starters in 2021, Van Dyke and Restrepo blossomed.
This offseason, however, Cristobal has pushed a different philosophy. First off, he said, no more late-night workouts. If anyone’s at the facility at 11 p.m., he said, they didn’t work hard enough during the day.
More importantly, it can’t just be Van Dyke and Restrepo refining their skills alone. If Van Dyke wants to be QB1, he needs a crowd with him at all times — that isn’t exactly in his wheelhouse.
“It’s very unnatural for him,” said offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. “He’s a quiet guy by nature, but we want him to affect more people because people look up to him.”
Van Dyke and Restrepo clicked naturally — one a natural introvert, the other a born showman. (“Our differences made us connect the strongest,” Restrepo said.) And Van Dyke had other friends on the team, too. He played golf with one of the walk-on QBs regularly. Van Dyke grew close with tight end Will Mallory after the two were quarantined together in COVID-19 housing in 2020. But get Van Dyke outside his comfort zone, and he was something of a wallflower.
When Gattis first joined the staff, he asked Van Dyke how he kept in touch with his receivers during the offseason. Turns out, he didn’t. He didn’t even have most guys’ phone numbers.
“That was just shocking,” Gattis said. “How can you build a team of wide receivers, tight ends, quarterbacks, and you’re not all being on a group chat — all be talking? You’re not all throwing, watching film? So we’ve tried to build that camaraderie.”
It wasn’t Van Dyke’s fault, necessarily. He was never supposed to be the leader last season. He opened the year on the bench, narrowly edging blue-chip recruit Jake Garcia for the No. 2 job. When King got hurt, Van Dyke was just trying to find his sea legs, “to fit in with the other 10 guys,” Gattis said.
Still, Van Dyke isn’t a rah-rah guy. Never has been.
“I don’t like giving speeches or doing commercials,” Van Dyke said. “I’d rather just go play golf or something like that.”
Still, this offseason Van Dyke shot an ad for College H.U.N.K.S. moving company as part of an NIL deal. There wasn’t much to it — “just talk and walk and say College H.U.N.K.S. is a good business, which it is,” he said — but it was still a chance to come out of his shell a bit.
His high school coach, Drew Gamere, remembers teaching Van Dyke in a freshman leadership class and struggling to get the kid to open up. Four years later, however, Van Dyke delivered a stirring speech to the entire school about leadership and opportunity and the responsibility of everyone to make the most of what’s in front of them.
“He just needed to get comfortable,” Gamere said.
Cristobal explains it more pragmatically: There’s a technique to leadership.
On the field, Van Dyke is refining his delivery and footwork, his QB coach Frank Ponce said. Gattis installed a new pro-style offensive system, too, asking Van Dyke to be more of a pure dropback passer after two years running the RPO. But Van Dyke is a fast learner, relishing the chance to refine his skill set and knowledge of the game.
Cristobal wants to see Van Dyke take that same approach to leading his team.
“If you want to win and win big, your best players have to be your best leaders,” Cristobal said. “He’s taking a lot of pride in that.”
So now there’s a text chain, and Van Dyke is the lead voice. He’s reminding guys to put in work, then encouraging them to shrug off any setbacks. This offseason, Miami organized regular Saturday corn hole competitions for team building. When the offense flubs a play during practice, the whole unit stays late to run it again — over and over until it’s right.
“An incomplete pass, and he’s mad,” said Miami defensive back James Williams. “Anytime somebody messes up on a route, he’s going to correct them. A running back hits the wrong hole, he’s going to tell them. That’s a guy who just doesn’t like losing. For me, when I look him in his eyes, I see a warrior. I see a man who wants to lead this team to greatness. And I love that.”
It’s not much different than those late-night sessions with Restrepo. It’s just that now, there’s a whole team of receivers and backs and linemen, all looking to Van Dyke to show the way.
“When I first got here, I didn’t really say a word,” Van Dyke said. “Now I text throughout the day, keeping guys motivated. We have to have a connection off the field, too. It’s trust off the field so you can trust each other on it.”
IT’S EASY TO see Van Dyke and picture something great — something Miami hasn’t had in a long time.
Van Dyke was just 2 or 3 when he first threw a football, and his father said it was instantly clear he had talent. By high school, Van Dyke had grown to 6-foot-4. He’s a lean 224 pounds, with blond hair and an easy smile and pretty much looks like a QB out of central casting.
Then watch him throw, and it’s a thing of beauty — “a trillion-dollar arm,” Restrepo said.
Their first spring scrimmage, Van Dyke led the second-team offense on a TD drive with 50 seconds left, connecting with Restrepo on three straight throws, including a back-shoulder fade on a wheel route for the TD.
“It was the best throw I’ve ever seen anybody make,” Restrepo said. “I’m like, dude, I’ve got the best quarterback ever as my best friend.”
Go back to the glory days for the Hurricanes, and there was always a golden boy QB — from Jim Kelly to Vinny Testaverde to Steve Walsh to Ken Dorsey. Miami was “the original QBU,” as Ponce described it. But the run of greatness ended in the early 2000s, and Miami has spent the bulk of this millennium shifting between solid-if-unspectacular passers and downright awful ones.
Van Dyke offers a line back to the golden years, but this week’s game against Texas A&M will be just his 11th career start. ESPN’s Mel Kiper has seen enough to have Van Dyke — for now — ranked as his No. 3 QB prospect for the 2023 NFL draft.
“He’s not lacking anything,” Kiper said. “He can move, he can avoid, he sees the field, making good decisions. He’s got the size, the arm, the want-to. But 11 starts doesn’t tell me enough.”
It’s a small sample size, and Miami fans have been burned before.
There are opportunities — “showcase games,” Kiper called them — for Van Dyke to solidify his NFL future and offer proof that he belongs in the conversation with past Canes stars, beginning with Saturday’s game against a terrific Aggies defense. But Van Dyke said he’s not thinking about the NFL draft or anything beyond what’s right in front of him.
Still, as the latest chorus of “Miami is back!” believers reach their crescendo, Van Dyke represents a critical piece to the puzzle. There can’t be a “next great Miami team” without a next great Miami QB.
“I love his presence,” said former Miami great Bernie Kosar, who has been a regular at Hurricanes practices this fall. “I love his leadership and abilities and to have that little extra ‘it’ factor on top of it, I absolutely see that. Do I want to put all that pressure on him to put him into all the elite, dominant, generational teams of our past? I don’t think that’s fair to him. But I absolutely believe he has that gift to handle it.”
Van Dyke is aware of the legacy. It’s part of what drew him to Miami in the first place. He had offers at UCLA and Syracuse and Purdue — places with legacies of their own — but nothing compared to Miami. He chose the Hurricanes, he said, because he thought it was a place he could win — not just win enough to go to a bowl game, not just win a few shockers against ranked ACC opponents, but win big, win it all. And maybe he could be the piece Miami needed to win like that again.
“You see these guys in the rafters and the national championship banners,” Van Dyke said, “and Miami hasn’t had that in 20 years.”
Cristobal isn’t asking Van Dyke (or anyone else at Miami) to think that way, though. Sure, he reminds them of the past. Cristobal, after all, was both a player and an assistant coach for some of Miami’s best teams. He tells his players the fields they practice on are “sacred grounds” and that it’s an honor to inherit that legacy. But he hates the talk about Miami being back. What does that even mean? In those glory years, Miami wasn’t aiming for some abstract definition of success. So, look around the Miami football facilities or walk around campus. The message is ubiquitous: “The U is back … to work.”
That suits Van Dyke just fine. All the hype and the love, what does that really mean?
He’s talked a lot with Kosar and Walsh this offseason. He met former Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino, too. The Hall of Famer’s advice was simple: “Just keep doing what I’m doing,” Van Dyke said.
“I don’t want to think about, ‘If I do this, I can get these awards,'” Van Dyke said. “That’s where I get off track.”
No, Van Dyke is the type of player who’d rather shank a few drives off the tee, just so he has something to push him through the back nine. Listen to the hype? There’s no fun in that.
“He still has people doubting him, saying it’s beginner’s luck,” Restrepo said. “I keep telling him, ‘You’re the best in the nation. It’s go time.’ But he likes to be No. 1, and if he’s not No. 1, that’s people doubting him.”
Back him into a corner, tell Van Dyke it’s impossible — now that’s a challenge he can embrace. He did it against NC State last year. The challenge in 2022 is just a bit — ok, maybe a lot — bigger.
Still, Van Dyke learned his lesson about telling the world his expectations. No more of that. His teammates bailed him out of his last guarantee. Now it’s his turn to pay them back.
“It would be cool to be part of such an elite quarterback tradition at Miami,” Van Dyke said. “[But] I’m not worried about being compared to any of the greats. I’m only focused on winning.”