WHEN RON McBRIDE took over the University of Utah football program two years ago, the first thing he did was put his players through a battery of athletic tests. As Ute coaches were evaluating each player's test results, one set of marks caught McBride's eye.
"Who's this guy, Dave Chaytors?" he asked his assistants. "There's a guy who will be a player."Chaytors, a defensive tackle and former hockey
player by way of Canada, had recorded a vertical leap of 32 inches - and packed 235 pounds at the time. He also tested out near the top in lateral movement, strength, speed and horizontal leaping ability.
"He hasn't done anything, but he's got to be a great athlete," McBride told his coaches.
Chaytors, then a sophomore, had played only sparingly before McBride put him on the field. Since then, he has since validated his coach's suspicions. The numbers: in six games this season he has collected 32 tackles (19 solos), 2 tackles for
loss, 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, and has demonstrated a certain knack for making big plays. Against Wyoming last week he deflected a pass, which landed in the hands of teammate Kim Lambert, and blocked an extra point kick, which has become his specialty. It marked the third time this year - and the fifth time in two years - he has blocked a field goal or PAT kick (another kick went between his hands).
"He has unbelievable leverage," says McBride. "He's so strong in his butt and hamstrings."
At 6-foot-21/2, 251 pounds, Chaytors is not especially tall or big, but somehow he manages to block kicks with rare frequency. The Utes have so much faith in his kick-blocking skills that before every field goal or PAT try they line him up in direct line with the kicker and the goal posts. Instead of going over or around the blocker, he goes through him. In a matter of a split second, Chaytors drives into his opponent, trying to knock him back a step or two, and then leaps upward, arms outstretched.
"The more I can push the blocker back, the more I change the angle of the kick," he says.
Chaytors, who grew up in Calgary, took a circuitous route to Utah and the college football fields of the U.S. He gave up Canada's most popular sport, hockey, to pursue football at Father Lacombe High, which meant playing in front of 100 or so spectators, most of them family and friends.
He wound up on defense - the same place he played on the ice. For nine years he had played defenseman in hockey, a position which, if nothing else, helped to prepare him for the gridiron."A defenseman is not a finesse player," he explains. "That's where the grunts are. You basically rough up the other team when they're in front of your goal."
At least in football he didn't have to wear skates.
When Chaytors graduated from high school in 1987, he took a construction job for a year and played semi-pro football on the side. He worked from 8 to 4 daily, then gobbled dinner and drove off to evening football practice. On Fridays, the team drove to games, which meant bus rides of three to eight hours. For this he was paid a per diem - but the transportation was free.
Seeking a college education and a football career, Chaytors went to the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League; they recommended the University of Utah. The Utes moved Chaytors from linebacker to defensive tackle and redshirted him for a season. After pulling mostly pine time during his freshman year, Chaytors was put in the lineup last season under McBride and totaled 66 tackles.
Not that the American version of the game didn't take some getting used to. "I thought I was tall before I came here," he says. "I noticed the difference in height and arm length."
Chaytors found that America's narrower field made it easier to contain wide plays. On the other hand, the Canadian game places defensive linemen one yard off the ball, giving him more time to react to a play.
"That's why before each play you'll see me look at the formation before I go down in my stance," he says.
Chaytors, a junior, hopes that his five years of experience in American football will make him a valuable commodity in the CFL, if not the National Football League. The CFL, which limits the number of Americans each team can sign, is eager to sign qualified Canadians.
"I've had the benefit of playing football at the American level, but I'm Canadian so it doesn't mess up their quota," says Chaytors.
In the meantime, he has a year and a half to build up his resume for the CFL. Another blocked kick against Colorado State this weekend, for instance, would be good for starters.