When A.J. Dillon first arrived at Boston College, the Eagles knew they had a special player.
He had a combination of speed and power in his 6-foot, 240-pound frame that made him attractive to some of the nation’s elite programs, from Notre Dame to Michigan. But the opportunity to play for the premier football program in New England drew Dillon to BC.
What the Eagles didn’t expect was for Dillon to shatter BC’s freshman rushing record, piling up 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns and pushing the Eagles to their fourth bowl appearance in five seasons.
The splash Dillon made in his first season earned him Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year honors on Tuesday, making him the first player in school history to win the award.
“Yes, we knew that he had great talent — absolutely,” coach Steve Addazio said. “But sometimes you’ve got to give guys a chance to get their sea legs and you want to build confidence in that. You don’t want guys to have negative experiences.”
Dillon didn’t officially take over as the Eagles’ starting running back until the eighth game of the season against Virginia, but by then he already had plowed through Central Michigan for 120 yards and run roughshod over Louisville for 272 yards, the most by a freshman in the FBS this season and the seventh highest single-game rushing total in college football this season.
He was the 12th freshman in conference history to rush for 1,000 yards, and just the second freshman in conference history to post two 200-yard games after rushing for an even 200 against Connecticut.
“It is a true honor to be the first Boston College player to win this award,” Dillon said in a statement. “All the credit belongs to my teammates and coaches for helping me to be in this position. We have a special bond here at BC and I can’t wait to close out the season in a bowl game.”
Dillon was at the front of a crop of young players that helped breathe new life into BC’s program, and as his ceiling gets higher, Addazio said he sees Dillon being essential in the program taking the next step.
“A.J.’s a real grounded guy, real level-headed guy, really high-character guy,” Addazio said. “So I think he’ll stay in that groove of wanting to be a great teammate, I want to build my level of play, team success first. I just think he’s wired right. And I think keeping yourself grounded and wired right is critically important. So, he’ll continue to grow and build. There’s no doubt about that.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.