A bitter loss doesn't take away what New London's AJ Dillon has wrought at Boston College
New York — It almost felt as though the narrative had been written. Of course. AJ Dillon, who wears No. 2 at Boston College, finishes his fanciful freshman season running about the same lawn as another famous No. 2, name of Jeter. With similar results.
Dillon. Another favorite son of New London, making a national name like Dunn and Davis and Reed. The refined young man who singlehandedly pulled the BC football season from the morass and into a bowl game, the Pinstripe Bowl, Wednesday night at colder-than-Canada Yankee Stadium.
And then the game started.
AJ Dillon and about 38,000 fans learned all over again that nature can be a mother.
The cold temperatures — wind chills in single digits by night’s end — turned the grass at Yankee Stadium into a bathtub without a shower mat. You’ve heard Paul Simon sing “Slip Slidin’ Away?” Alas, that was BC’s season of promise, ending with a bitter 27-20 loss to Iowa.
And it’s a pretty big compliment when you can finish the game with 157 rushing yards and a touchdown and still have people ask, "So what went wrong, A.J.?”
Dillon, who was so adept at planting, cutting and then cutting a swath through the defenses of Louisville, Florida State and Virginia, among others, often tiptoed his way to the line of scrimmage Wednesday night. Iowa, too, loaded the line of scrimmage, daring him to run. He broke one for 66 yards. Mostly, though, Dillon was — gulp — human.
“For a guy like AJ who is a hard put-your-foot-in-the-ground drive guy, it was hard on him out there,” BC coach Steve Addazio said. “He was kind of like on ice. He made some good runs, but those traditional big power backs like that who want to plant and drive, I thought that became more difficult.”
What Dillon has wrought at BC this season belongs in program lore and legend. The Eagles, 2-4 and left for dead in the middle of October, found themselves down two scores at Louisville. Meet the new loss, same as the old loss. Except that with one play, Dillon not only changed the season, but a program.
He ran left … and then became a YouTube sensation with a spin-and-stiff arm of Chucky Williams, a 216-pound safety at Louisville, en route to a 75-yard touchdown run. He discarded Williams with one arm and then used both legs to sprint past everyone else. From that point, BC outscored its opponents through the regular season 171-60 and went 5-1.
Remember: This is BC. Not Alabama.
“His numbers speak for themselves,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It was tough tonight for anyone with the ball, unless you were going vertically, to make cuts. He’s a strong player. In talking to the folks at Boston College, he sounds like an outstanding young man, too. That’s good for our sport. I guess unless we play them in a bowl game, we won’t have to see him again. Which is just fine with me.”
Dillon was too far away on the field Wednesday night to hear the BC rooting section pay him an unwitting compliment. Every time Dillon got a handoff, there was a palpable buzz. As in: Could this be the play he goes off? And BC fans get to enjoy him next season, too, when the Eagles return most of the team that played Wednesday night, as well as several injured starters.
Dillon will be part of every preseason watch list. Perhaps the Heisman list. And he’s ready for it.
“We’re dealing with a high-character, great kid who totally understands,” Addazio said. “He’s not an ego guy. There’s human nature … but we have a pretty centered, balanced team. Our university is balanced. It’s not just all about football. It’s about academics and making a difference in people’s lives.
"On the whole, our place is balanced and I think our kids have a tendency to be. AJ is a very high-character guy. Our program is wired in such a way that a big ego is not going to survive. I feel good about our future and how AJ will handle the accolades. Our place is about the team, the team, the team. That is not going to change.”
And so the 06320 not only has another star, but a young man who represents us well. Turns out Dillon really was paying attention as he watched Kris Dunn.
“It really resonated with me watching seeing Kris," Dillon said. “He stayed close to home at Providence. I used to watch him after my rec games at Bennie Dover. I thought about how Kris was on ESPN every night, but that he did it close to home. I thought about being from New England, where you are always doubted, and how you can still do it.”
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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