GREEN BAY – Door County's favorite adopted son now has the key to prove it.
Following his 128-yard, two-touchdown performance in Sunday's 17-0 win over Seattle, Packers running back AJ Dillon received the key to the county during Destination Door County's annual meeting in Jacksonport, Wis., on Tuesday.
Dillon has been open about his love for the vacation area, often referred to as the "thumb" on the map of Wisconsin. Dillon was introduced to the peninsula by his fiancée, Gabrielle Toonen, and her family, who have a residence in Door County.
What started out as an occasional getaway has since turned into a passion, to the point Dillon began prodding to go back whenever he had a day off. The second-year running back often posts on social media from a myriad of Door County restaurants and tourist spots.
"That was the summer I first got out here, it was really fun. We just kept going," Dillon said. "Then, I found I was dragging her up. She's like, 'I always go there.' I'm like, 'We've got to go back up.'"
Dillon joked it was a good thing he played well against Seattle because his appearance at the event was planned in advance, adding his key to Door County was exclusive "1-of-1," an overt reference to the running back's love of sport-card collecting.
A native of New London, Conn., Dillon admittedly didn't know much about Green Bay or its surrounding areas when the Packers drafted him in the second round a year ago. He quickly took to YouTube and Google to learn more about the area.
The tranquility of Door County paired well with Dillon's personality. Whether it was at Lawrence Academy in Massachusetts or Boston College, Dillon has thrived in family environments and communities.
"When I got out here after I got drafted, people were like messaging me on Instagram, saying, 'We have some lasagna we've just made, we can bring it over,'" Dillon recalled. " Me being kind of from the city, I'm like, 'I don't trust food from strangers,' but just that thought, people are that nice and welcoming here, is something I'm really honored to be a part of."
The football part also has gone pretty well. As the thunder to Aaron Jones' lightning, Dillon has been one of the Packers' most improved players in 2021 with 617 total yards and three touchdowns on 113 touches.
The 6-foot, 247-pound running back has drawn praise from MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers for steady progress in his pass protection and pass-catching.
The Packers have needed him, too, after Jones exited in the third quarter against Seattle with a knee injury that could sideline him for this Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Seventy-eight of Dillon's 128 total yards against the Seahawks came in the fourth quarter, including both of his touchdown runs.
Perhaps Dillon's biggest play was an impactful 50-yard, catch-and-run in which he broke several tackles. When the Seahawks finally wrestled Dillon to the ground, the second-year back non-chantingly jumped back to his feet before being greeted by a celebratory shove from All-Pro receiver Davante Adams.
"I would like to see a little bit more animation from him on a play like that," laughed Adams earlier this week. "I'd like to say I had a little more energy than he did when I went up to him and almost knocked him over. But he's playing really well, so I'm excited to see how he finishes the year."
News about Dillon receiving the key to Door County also made its way through the locker room this week. Head Coach Matt LaFleur laughed while mentioning the team gave the young running back a little playful grief about it on Wednesday.
"I was like, 'Man, I haven't even been to Door County yet, let alone get a key for it,'" LaFleur said. "Yeah, I was calling him the Mayor. So, that was pretty funny."
Dillon, to his credit, has already offered to serve as his coach's tour guide should LaFleur and his family ever wanted to take the drive up Highway 57.
"He is a pretty busy guy. He has to coach us up," Dillon said. "I told him anytime I'll show him around the county. I'm the guy to do it. I've got a bunch of places for him to check out."
This weekend, Dillon's focus is set squarely on the rival Minnesota Vikings in what quite likely will mark his first career NFL start. With the recently promoted Patrick Taylor as the only other healthy back on the 53-man roster, Dillon could be in for a busy afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium.
As far as the key is concerned, Dillon says he has big plans for it. He recently moved into a new place and wants to build an area in his office to display the award. That's assuming, of course, he doesn't change his mind and decide to just "wear it around" his neck instead.
With deepening ties to the area, Dillon has embraced Green Bay with his arms wide open. While his NFL career is just in its infancy, Dillon easily could see himself staying here once his playing days are over.
"The plan is, regardless of football and wherever it may take me or may not take me, I'm going to be a Green Bay guy for life," Dillon said. "Yeah, definitely, that can be in the future; definitely a mayor somewhere."