Last January, on his way to a massage after Packers practice, AJ Dillon needed to stop by Walgreens to pick up a few items. As he walked through an aisle searching for allergy medicine, the store’s speakers started playing “Mr. Brightside,” a 2004 song by The Killers that’s become a staple in the student section at Alumni Stadium.
The tune immediately brought Dillon back to his time at Boston College, where he rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons. As he tracked down his Claritin, Dillon couldn’t stop himself from busting out a few moves.
“There was a lady in front of me, kind of in the middle of the aisle, and I did a little spin move,” he recalled. “Right after I did that, she had a little kid next to her, and I just juked him real quick and kept it moving. Then I realized where I was and was like, ‘Eh, maybe I need to relax a little bit.’ But it was good to get back to the glory days.”
The glory days seem far from over, though.
Impressed by his productive college career, in which he was the focal point of BC’s offense, Green Bay drafted Dillon in the second round in 2020 with the 62nd overall pick.
After a quiet rookie year, Dillon began to split reps with longtime starting running back Aaron Jones last season. The two now form a powerful 1-2 punch in Green Bay’s backfield, with Dillon serving as a formidable goal-line option. His role expands far beyond those situations, however. The 24-year-old Dillon can contribute on every down, including in the passing game.
“It’s pretty unique when you have two guys as versatile as those two guys are,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. “You look at a guy like AJ Dillon, there’s just not too many backs that size [6 feet, 247 pounds] that have those types of hands, that are true halfbacks.”
But even with his success in the pros, Dillon hasn’t forgotten about his roots — and why he decided to pursue the sport in the first place.
“I love it now so much,” Dillon said. “I really do enjoy it so much. But I think that football not being my first love and kind of gradually getting into it and seeing what it could do for me, I feel like I never lost that.”
As a kid, Dillon wanted nothing to do with football. He didn’t enjoy the amount of contact and instead preferred baseball. When he eventually joined his first youth league late in grade school, he couldn’t even play running back because he was over the position’s weight limit. So, Dillon, who estimates he weighed 100 pounds at age 10, started as a tight end.
Once Dillon was allowed to capitalize on his size, his abilities out of the backfield shined. Growing up in New London, Conn., he thought football could earn him a scholarship at one of the local colleges, maybe UConn or Eastern Connecticut, so that way his mom, then a teacher and now a principal, wouldn’t have to worry about tuition.
It turns out his sights should have been set much higher.
As a high schooler, Dillon put up huge numbers at Lawrence Academy in Groton. His junior year, he rushed for 1,887 yards and 26 touchdowns. His senior year, his stats dipped because he missed time with a broken leg, so he decided to break every track and field school record he could, participating in the 100-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, shot put, and discus.
The offers from high-profile college football programs, such as Notre Dame and Wisconsin, started rolling in. At first, Dillon decided to commit to Michigan. His perspective soon shifted after a couple of conversations with his mother.
“When I re-looked at it, I had a pros and cons list and I’m sitting down with my mom, I was like, ‘If football were to end tomorrow, and I was never going to play again, where would I want to be?’ ” Dillon recalled.
At the end of Dillon’s official visit at Boston College, his choice was clear. The school satisfied Dillon’s three A’s: atmosphere, academics, and athletics. Plus, the campus was local.
“I really wanted to inspire the people from my hometown,” Dillon said. “To be able to impact my community and show them you can go ahead and have your dreams come true right here at home. That’s why I didn’t go to Michigan or some of the other schools that had offered me. I wanted to stay close to home and show them that I could still get it done.”
About a week after his visit to BC, Dillon was set to visit Michigan again. So, he wrote a reminder that he, to this day, still has saved in his iPhone.
“December 4, 2016, 3:43 p.m., it says, ‘Boston College. No matter what,’ ” Dillon said. “No matter what Michigan was going to throw at me. No matter what, it’s BC. No knock against Michigan, but I know they’re going to have nicer facilities, they’re going to have nicer gear, and the stadium is going to be bigger. Don’t lose sight of what you really want at the end of the day.”
As Dillon’s football career has taken off, he has maintained that approach. Football is a vehicle, he says, to accomplish more than just what happens on the field.
Yes, Dillon wants to score touchdowns. Yes, he wants to help the Packers return to the playoffs. But Dillon hasn’t lost sight of the reality outside of football. He’s already put enough money aside to pay for his little sister’s college tuition, started to build his personal brand, and laid the foundation for long-lasting relationships.
“Use football. Don’t let football use you,” Dillon said. “It’s not coined by me, but a lot of people say it, and I think I really embody that. I’m trying to get and take as much as I can from the sport of football while I can play and perform at a high level.”