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WVU football: Dillon yet to realize full potential

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The truly frightening thing about K.J. Dillon is not the size or the speed West Virginia University's freshman safety displays or the danger the combination poses to opponents who dare venture into his part of the football field.

No, the scary part is that though he's been good enough to win state championships in Florida in multiple track events, casually conquer a variety of sports and play football at a level impressive enough to make it here, he has no idea how good he can one day be.

No one does.

"Not really," the 6-foot, 2-inch, 205-pound Dillon said. "I know I can still get better. I've got a lot of room for improvement. But now that I know I have this within me, I know it's up to me to learn how to use it. It's hard. The thing is I can't think. I have to react. I have to know all the things so I'm not thinking."

Dillon is already second string behind junior Darwin Cook at boundary safety. He's being schooled to play nickel back and field safety, not merely because WVU has cornerbacks, nickel backs and safeties meet together, but because Dillon appears to be too good to store on the sideline.

"I'm capable of a lot of things," he said. "I'm capable of hitting hard. I'm capable of running fast. I'm capable of covering guys. I've just got to unlock it. The day I do that, I'll be a much better player."

This is the first time Dillon has focused exclusively on one aspect of football.

He started for three seasons at Apopka High and played in the defensive backfield, but also at running back and receiver - and led the team in receiving as a senior.

His history shows that if he devotes himself to something, he's going to become quite good at it.

"My main thing now is defense," he said. "I want to hit people, I want to cover people. I'm looking forward to figuring it all out."

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.

Dillon sprayed the balls across the field, but ended up not following through on the idea. He instead ran track, despite giving up on that in the past. A year earlier, track was "just a hobby" to stay sharp and in shape between his junior and senior football seasons. He ran the 300-meter hurdles and made it to the state championship meet.

"I got eighth place," he said. "I was embarrassed."

He hadn't struggled with something since he abandoned swimming at an early age.

"When I was little, they threw me in a pool and I almost drowned," he said. "I decided that was not for me. I was not going to be a swimmer."

So it would be baseball over track as a senior, but the track coach pestered Dillon until he could no longer deny the thought of defeating what had once discouraged him.

"I decided I wanted to get better at it and go to state and get my rings," he said.

Dillon ended up with three Class 4A championship rings. He won the 110 hurdled by one one-hundredth of a second and the 300 hurdles by almost a half-second while slicing three seconds off his time from the year before.

He ran on the winning 4x100 relay team, too, but quickly knew what he'd done in the hurdles was special. The races require a specific blend of speed and coordination and the longer distance demands an elite athleticism to make a turn and stay in rhythm.

Dillon discovered he had it all and realized he'd yet to apply it to the sport he loves most.

"I thought about it and saw I can really use this speed and bigness and really transition it over to football," he said. "It hit me that I'm a pretty big guy and I'm pretty fast, so football should just come naturally."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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