In the days leading up to the Kansas football team’s trip to Boston College it became clear to reserve linebacker Jay Dineen his role was about to expand.
Position coach Mike Ekeler told the inside linebackers the game plan would involve keeping starters Dru Prox and Kyron Johnson fresh by rotating in Dineen and Gavin Potter, something KU had not done the first two weeks of the season.
“Just getting a chance,” Dineen said, “I had to take advantage.”
Playing significant snaps on defense for the first time since he starred at Free State High in Lawrence, the hometown sophomore linebacker wasn’t perfect. But Dineen’s contributions to a massive KU victory at BC included four tackles, as well as the first tackle for loss and forced fumble of his career.
Those efforts made an impression on head coach Les Miles as well.
“I like he’s rough and rugged and he’ll make a tackle,” Miles said of Dineen. “He’s a guy who will at risk of injury step right in there and make plays. Enjoyed that very much.”
The Eagles’ style and effective running backs meant defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot wanted to use more linebackers than usual, allowing Dineen to take on more responsibilities.
“We knew they were a big run team, and that’s kind of my game,” Dineen said.
After signing with KU in 2017, Dineen redshirted as a freshman. In 2018, most of his work came on special teams coverage units. He took a step forward as a defender and worked his way up the depth chart ahead of this season, though, by showing he could play and think faster.
“I lost a lot of weight,” the 6-foot-2 Dineen, now roughly 225 pounds, said of shedding 20-plus pounds since the conclusion of his redshirt freshman year. “Got my weight right and just staying in my playbook, learning the plays, learning everything.”
His development in those areas set Dineen up for some success at Boston College. The backup linebacker’s first big play came shortly after KU’s first touchdown, when he blew up a run call for A.J. Dillon and took down the 250-pound junior for a 3-yard loss.
It took senior safety Mike Lee a moment to comprehend what he had just seen.
“I really didn’t know who tackled them that play that he shot through the hole,” Lee said. “Then once I saw that was him, I was like, ‘OK. Jay Dineen, he’s a baller.’ Once he gets everything down pat he’s going to be a very good player for us. He’s going to help us a lot.”
Dineen also had two tackles that stopped rushers for a gain of 1 yard.
“I just read it and hit it,” he said of fitting in holes on KU’s run blitzes.
In the third quarter, Dineen forced a fumble near midfield after a Jake Burt reception. Although BC recovered, the hit and stop came on third down, effectively ending the Eagles’ possession with a three-and-out after KU had built a 7-point lead.
Those were the highlights of Dineen’s night under the lights in Chestnut Hill, Mass. But there were plenty of learning moments, too.
On one play-action pass by BC quarterback Anthony Brown late in the first quarter, Dineen kept his eyes in the backfield as tight end Korab Idrizi went past him to find a wide open space behind Dineen, resulting in a 20-yard touchdown.
Lee expects the more reps Dineen gets, the more he will rely on his cues and not get caught making a mistake that costs KU (2-1).
“That’s your man,” Lee said of Idrizi, playing tight end out of a shotgun formation, getting past Dineen. “He gets behind you, that’s a touchdown. That’s what happened. You’ve just got to read your keys. He’s going to be good, though.”
When Dineen was at his best, he hoped he at least somewhat emulated his older brother Joe, KU’s all-time career leader in tackles for loss (45.5).
Watching Joe and playing on the same team as him the past two years, Dineen said, helped him develop as well.
“Sundays, go home for dinner, he would always talk to me about what I could do better and everything,” Dineen said. “I got my chance, and I just wanted to play like he played.”
Joe didn’t get to watch Friday’s KU game, which aired on the ACC Network, but he listened to the radio call online from his apartment in Denver.
Afterward, Joe Dineen, now a free agent after a broken hand in the preseason played a part in the Broncos waiving him, reached out to Jay to let him know how “fired up” he was for the team, but even more so for his younger brother and his TFL.
A lifelong KU fan, Jay Dineen said the victory — and beating a Power Five team on the road — felt “huge” for the program, especially heading into Big 12 play, with the Jayhawks hosting West Virginia (2-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPN+).
The current KU linebacker also hopes he will be contributing for the Jayhawks a lot more moving forward, after chipping in at BC.
“I think it will be a regular role,” Dineen said after the win. “Whatever really the coaches do, I’m going to go with the flow. I believe I will get in more. We were really happy with the performance. The switching off with the linebackers kept everybody fresh. It really helped us a ton.”