He won’t say what he did to injure his left ankle and rob him of the first week-plus of preseason camp, but K.J. Dillon, injured at home, is back at practice and unencumbered.
He was a little more willing to discuss the details of lifestyle changes he has to make to manage living with diabetes. It’s new and different, but it’s not hard. Not for Dillon. If you know him, you know he rather likes a challenge.
“When you make the main thing the main thing, you’re on the right track,” he said.
Dillon, of course, discovered his condition when he was “a day away from going into a diabetic coma” just before 2012’s national signing day. He was understandably worried about his future, but ultimately relieved and encouraged by the welcoming arms at WVU.
“I was supposed to sign the next day, but I was nervous,” he said. “I didn’t know if West Virginia was going to take me.”
Dillon didn’t know then what he knows now, which is that his diabetes can be controlled and though it affects his diet and his lifestyle, it doesn’t affect the way he plays football. He could have sat on the news for a day or a week or until he could no longer hide it, but he decided to call Coach Dana Holgorsen and tell him and, who knows, give him a chance to get out of the deal.
“Coach,” Dillon said, “I just found out I’m diabetic.”
Dillon wasn’t smiling when the words came out of his mouth that day. Nearly eight months later, he grins as he recites the conversation.
“OK,” Holgorsen replied. “We have a staff here to look after you and take care of you.”
Dillon had a more serious episode after the Texas game last season and had to be hospitalized because of severe dehydration. He missed the rest of the season, but was fully recovered for spring football.
He’s on a strict diet and watching his carb intake every day to make sure his sugar levels don’t get too high.
“It’s not a dramatic change,” he said. “When you look at it, do you want to play or do you want to sit? Do you want to live or do you want to die? You’ve just got to take care of yourself and do what you’ve got to do.”
This is all great news because, first and foremost, Dillon is a pleasure. Quotes like that flow freely. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s just easy to be around and to talk to, and he seems to enjoy the conversations we have with him as much as the interactions he has with quarterbacks.
But Dillon’s just an athletic marvel. The Mountaineers dearly want him to be healthy and durable and dangerous this season. Tony Gibson told me “K.J. Dillon is the key to the defense. I mean, that guy’s special.” He’s the true Spur on the defense and entirely capable of playing the run, rushing the passer and defending the pass.
That was how we got to know Dillon, both the athlete and the orator, and, as you an gather from that link, it was wonderful.
It was merely an opening act for this Mountaineers myth, except that the exploits that seemed to be too good to be true were actually true.
Then again, Dillon is something of an effortless athlete, a natural competitor, which explains why he is where he is after just 13 days of practice.
“The first time I bowled, I bowled over 200,” he said.
Ping pong? Piece of cake. Cards? Spades is simple, “but it depends on my partner.” Baseball? That’s where things get silly.
Apopka has a fine football pedigree with Sammie Smith, Warren Sapp, Brandon Meriweather and former Marshall safety Rogers Beckett before Dillon. The Blue Darters play good baseball, too, and sent Zack Greinke to the Major Leagues.
When Dillon was a senior, with high school football in his past and college football a few months away, he decided he was going to play baseball.
“I was going to be that athlete that would just swing and hit,” he said.
So one day he went out to the field and stepped into the batter’s box against pitcher Jarrod Petree, who was good enough to not only sign a scholarship with UCF, but to be profiled in the New York Times when he was 12 years old.
“They gave me a bat and out of 20 balls, I hit 15 – my first time playing baseball,” Dillon said.
So, yes, it’s just a lot better for everyone when K.J. Dillon is around.