By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
This corner of the world is not normally devoted to tipping anyone off on potential football stars. If we could do that we would be scouting, and judging by the cars driven by the scouts I’ve come to know, that might not be such a bad idea.
Least of all do we offer advice on such a player without ever having seen him play a down, save for one YouTube clip, but today we are going to break with that policy and hope that this is better advice than when I told someone that Ryan Leaf would make the world forget about Joe Namath.
West Virginia has a freshman safety by the name of Kimlon “K.J.” Dillon. Physically, he is a stud, standing 6-2, weighing 195, which is prototype for the position, so much so that when WVU assistant Joe DeForest went to his door to recruit him and he answered the bell he took one look and thought to himself, “Oh, my God, I hope that’s K.J.”
There are other items that he brings to the table that make you believe he’s got the makings of the next Robert Sands, not the least of which is that he, too, is from Florida.
It isn’t even that he won the state 110 and 300 hurdles along with the state 4x100 championships as a senior, which is a tipoff that he might possess the speed necessary to get along quite well in the Big 12.
But that’s only part of it, and, at that, an expected part of it.
What’s really to like is the first time he bowled, he bowled a 200 game.
Now that’s a real athlete.
And what makes it even more appealing is he says it so matter-of-factly, as if to say, “Didn’t you do that, too?”
Perhaps the thing that sells me the most on him though is his approach to it all.
There is a certain confidence that comes with the fact that he knows what he possesses, but also a modest approach because he knows what he is getting himself into.
Certainly, he looks like he will get serious playing time as a freshman, both in the secondary and on special teams, and he understands that he won’t be going up against the kids he faced in high school or even the talent that graced the Big East.
He’s heading into the big time with the Big 12 and there won’t be time to adjust.
“I’m more excited than scared because I always dreamed to play up against those big guys,” he said. “Nervous? Yes, but still excited.”
It is, perhaps, the next point that he makes that lets you know he understands exactly what it’s all about.
“There’s no more Tavon Austins out there (in the Big 12). No more Stedmans. No more Genos picking you off. I’m going against the best right now,” he said. “I’m with the big boys now. I’m playing with the big dogs every day. I’m playing against top Heisman guys every day.”
It is rational understanding of the situation. He is a freshman, talented but still a freshman, and in practice he is seeing everything and more than he will see in the Big 12. He certainly won’t be overwhelmed by Oklahoma or Texas if he wins a job facing what he faces right there on the practice field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
He’s had good moments in the process.
“The best moment is when I go out there and get an interception against Geno ... or any of our quarterbacks, really,” he said.
And the most embarrassing moment?
“Every time I go out there and cover Tavon,” he said, smiling at the thought. “How does a guy just coming into college cover Tavon Austin? I mean, it’s crazy. You cover him and he gives you one of those moves you’ve never seen before in your life. It’s crazy.”
Crazy, but there are times when he comes out ahead.
“I’ve had my battles with Tavon ... and I lose most of them, but sometimes I win,” he said.
Perhaps most to his credit is that he isn’t entering this thing thinking he’s ready to go, sort of a cocky, bring-it-on attitude. Instead, he is realistic in accepting that he is a true freshman.
“I don’t feel I’m there yet. I can still get better,” he said. “I have a lot of room for improvement.”
If you go back to the YouTube play of one of his high school touchdowns, you may wonder if he really does have to get much better as he takes a handoff on a reverse, meets three players at 5, leaps into the air, does a complete flip and ends up a yard into the end zone, a leap of 18 feet with a flip.
“It was a reverse. I was coming around the corner, I saw my block and I saw three guys ... one of them I know personally and I know how he hits, he’s always going to hit me low. I was thinking maybe I should hurdle him. It just happened. I just dove,” he said.
Just like anyone else would do, just like they bowl 200 the first time they try the sport.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.