'Physical freak' A.J. Dillon not a typical running back

Position coach at Boston College shares memories that make Packers’ second-round pick different

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RB A.J. Dillon

GREEN BAY – When Brian White ponders A.J. Dillon's future with the Green Bay Packers, he can't get one thought out of his head.

"He's such a physical freak that people are not going to want to tackle him," White said of the big, powerful running back he coached at Boston College whom the Packers drafted in the second round, at No. 62 overall.

"I just can't imagine it's going to be much fun for opposing teams in December and January to be tackling A.J. Dillon in Lambeau Field."

Fun doesn't begin to describe how White, who's now the senior associate head coach and running backs coach at Colorado State, will remember his three years as Dillon's position coach at BC.

As he shared a trove of memories in a phone interview with packers.com, they formed an ongoing discovery of the different – just how different Dillon is both on and off the field, beginning with the recruiting process.

First impressions

In getting to know and trying to secure a commitment from the top-ranked player in the state of Massachusetts, White was struck by Dillon's varied interests, including food, clothes, travel and photography.

"He's not just your cookie-cutter typical football player," White said. "He's a very naturally inquisitive guy."

Then, when Dillon's close-knit family was being given a tour of Boston's famous Fenway Park, his 5-year-old sister was getting tired as cranky kids are wont to do. No problem for Dillon.

"She fell asleep in his arms and he carried her around Fenway Park for about 45 minutes," White recalled. "I said, you know what, that's pretty cool. She was at every game."

If a teenager hauling a kindergartener around a ballpark for close to an hour sounds like a Herculean task, it really wasn't.

While in college, Dillon didn't exactly grow into the 247-pound package of 4.5 speed and explosiveness he is now. He already possessed the impressive frame back then.

Take a look at Packers RB AJ Dillon during his college career.

"If he wasn't 247, he was 242 or 245," White said. "He hasn't dramatically changed in terms of his size. He got tested last spring, and he was 5 percent body fat at 247 pounds.

"It's amazing, when you see him with his shirt off, he's got this little skinny waist and these huge shoulders, and these legs of tree trunks that are beyond anything you've ever seen."

That body stood out on the practice field from Day 1 his freshman year at BC, but no one wanted to get carried away. In over three decades of coaching in the college ranks, White has made it his MO not to heap undue expectations on young players.

So he wasn't going to predict back then Dillon would become a program-changing player, rushing for 4,382 yards and 38 touchdowns from 2017-19. But he certainly saw the potential, because he'd been through this before.

"His power and strength and explosion, they're rare. I've been coaching for 34 years, and the only one who was remotely close to A.J. was Ron Dayne," said White, who was the former Heisman Trophy winner and NCAA all-time leading rusher's position coach and eventually offensive coordinator at Wisconsin. "You're smart enough to know when it's different. I knew that with Ron and I knew that with A.J., honestly, within 15 minutes of coaching them in practice."

Big-stage intro

It took less than two months for Dillon to put it all together. In just his seventh collegiate game, Boston College traveled to Louisville to take on eventual Heisman-winning QB, and now reigning NFL MVP, Lamar Jackson.

Dillon had just a single 100-yard game and two touchdowns to his name before that day, but he matched if not outshined the soon-to-be megastar in what White termed his "formal introduction" to the country.

While Jackson threw for 332 yards and two TDs, and added 180 rushing yards and three more scores, Dillon racked up 39 carries for 272 yards and four TDs. He capped the 45-42 shootout upset with a signature 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that showed off all his tools.

"There's an unblocked corner blitz, comes at his knees, and he shakes that off," White said, relishing in the detailed play-by-play. "Then all of a sudden the safety comes inside-out, and he takes him with his right hand, literally throws him, and then runs 70-plus yards for a touchdown.

"He showed incredible power and balance, and ridiculous speed. He just dominated that game and never looked back. For me to tell you I knew that was going to be A.J.'s breakout game, I'd be absolutely lying to you. He had been playing well and been improving, but then all of a sudden he became superhuman in that game."

Over the next 2½ seasons, White watched Dillon focus on some of the finer points of a running back's game. He learned how to pass protect, run routes, and catch the ball out of the backfield.

Dillon only caught 21 passes for 226 yards and two TDs as a collegian, but White said he's far more skilled in that area than he was ever asked to show in BC's offense.

That matches up with what Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst learned about Dillon from his scouting combine workout. The more well-rounded he came across, the higher he rose on the Packers' board.

"I think in our offense there's probably a little bit more room for creativity than what he did at Boston College, a lot more in the passing game," Gutekunst said.

"His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, again, he didn't do a lot of that at Boston College, but it was something that was really attractive to us."

Exit in style

While Dillon, statistically speaking, never topped that unforgettable Louisville game as a freshman, White has a different one he'll remember most.

It was Dillon's final one for BC, last November at Pittsburgh, and it's the one White would regularly bring up when talking to NFL scouts because he feels it says the most about him.

Boston College was 5-6 and fighting to be bowl-eligible. Pitt had just cut the Eagles lead to 26-19 with 5:26 left, and BC got the ball back needing to run out the clock.

All Dillon did was carry the ball eight consecutive times for 47 yards in the Heinz Field chill. He picked up three first downs along the way to ice the win and send the Eagles to a bowl game, which was meaningful to the seniors given their bowl appearance the previous year was canceled due to weather.

Ultimately, Dillon would decide to declare for the draft a year early and skip the bowl game to begin preparing for the NFL, which is common for top prospects now if they're not headed to a marquee showcase.

Check out photos of newly-drafted Packers RB A.J. Dillon at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.

But what Dillon laid on the line for his teammates that day in western Pennsylvania spoke volumes to White.

"One of the things they ask you if they're going to draft a player is, 'Does he love football?' It's a really original question," White said. "My best way to answer that is just go watch the last five minutes of the Pitt game.

"If you don't love football, number one, you don't even play in that game, and number two, you don't expose yourself in the final five minutes. He could have easily taken himself out, because we had a pretty good backup tailback who will be an NFL football player next year in David Bailey.

"It was really special to me as a coach because he just took the game over."

It's that lasting memory that probably has planted in White's mind the future notion of the lack of enthusiasm for tackling Dillon in the Lambeau Field winter.

Let the next age of discovery begin.

"You know they're special, you know they're unique, you know they're different, and you know they're rare," White said. "You also know you've got to enjoy coaching them because they don't come around like that every day."

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