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Virginia Tech tight end Dalton Keene declares for the NFL Draft

Virginia Tech tight end Dalton Keene declares for the NFL Draft

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Dalton Keene scores on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Willis in the first quarter of the Hokies' loss to Miami on Saturday at Lane Stadium.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech tight end Dalton Keene made a surprise announcement late Friday night that he's declaring early for the 2020 NFL Draft. 

Keene revealed the news on social media.

"After a lot of consideration over the past couple of weeks I have decided to forego my senior year of eligibility and declare for the NFL Draft," Keene said. "This was a very difficult decision, and it is with a heavy heart that I leave my teammates and coaches."

"I want to thank everyone that has helped me get to this point including coach Fuente, coach Shibest and coach Wiles, but most importantly my family and teammates who I could rely on. Something is special is building in Blacksburg and I wish I could be part of it but this is the best decision for me at this time."

RELATED: A behind the scenes look at Virginia Tech’s summer routine with Dalton Keene

Keene, who was one of the team's co-captains in 2019, had 21 catches for 240 yards with five touchdowns. He also spent a portion of the season as the team's No. 2 running back — a position he played at Chatfield High School in suburban Denver — and had 11 carries for 33 yards.

Coach Justin Fuente viewed Tech's tight ends as one of the most talented position groups on the team with Keene joining James Mitchell, Drake Deiuliis and Nick Gallo to form a formidable mix. 

"That tight end room we have is special," Fuente said at the Belk Bowl media day. "I'm talking about all of them, not just the two we have here today (Dalton Keene and James Mitchell). Everyone of them in that room had over a 3.0 GPA last semester. They walk around together, they talk, they are always with each other. They take great pride in the success of each's a really special unit to be a part of." 

Keene was one of the most durable players on the roster during his time in Blacksburg. He started 38 of 39 games going back to his true freshman season in 2017. He had 59 catches in his career for 748 yards with eight touchdowns. 

He was one of the only players Virginia Tech recruited out west during the first four years of Fuente's tenure. Keene's family connections to the coaching staff at the time put him on the Hokies’ radar. Former defensive line coach Charley Wiles was a teammate of Dalton's father Wes at Murray State (and his roommate) while Bud Foster was on staff coaching linebackers. 

Keene's memorable catches last season against Duke (turning a short screen into a 63-yard touchdown thanks to a series of athletic moves) and Virginia (a contested grab against Bryce Hall to keep a last-ditch game tying drive alive) cemented his status as a fan favorite as did his "Rambo" nickname that he had as an underclassman thanks to his long hair. Keene helped brand Tech's tight ends as the "T-unit" this season.  

He is the second player since the end of the regular season to declare early for the NFL Draft. Running back Deshawn McClease decided against coming back for a sixth year last week. The deadline for college players leaving early to enter the draft this year is Jan. 17. The draft will be held in Las Vegas from April 23-25. 

Tech's 25-year streak of having at least one player drafted ended last season. The Hokies had 93 players selected during that stretch including nine first-rounders.

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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