The Boston College football program expects to take a leap this season similar to the one it looks for from running back A.J. Dillon in the follow-up to an explosive freshman campaign.
All eyes will be on Dillon, who set BC’s freshman rushing record with 1,589 yards a year ago and was named Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year on Tuesday.
“I think you’re going to see the best of him start to come out this year,” said Eagles head coach Steve Addazio.
With 45 votes, Dillon topped Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (42) of Springfield for the award.
The last time an Eagle was named preseason player of the year was 2011 when running back Montel Harris took the honor. Before that, quarterback Matt Ryan was tapped in 2007.
Dillon leads a group of four Eagles named to the All-ACC preseason team along with tight end Tommy Sweeney, offensive tackle Chris Lindstrom, and safety Lukas Denis.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Sweeney said last week. “I think his play speaks for itself. He’s a rare combination of speed and quickness and vision. Obviously we’re a run heavy team, and like you said, it opens up a lot of different things play-action wise and drop back.
“He’s a tremendous talent, a very hard worker, and it’s obviously evident in the tape and stuff. And for a tight end like myself who’s blocking for him a lot of the time, it’s pretty encouraging if you know if you can hold on for a couple seconds, something big is going to happen.”
As a freshman, Dillon made a splash by piling up the fourth-highest single-season rushing total in ACC history.
He didn’t become the Eagles feature back until midway through the season but immediately made an impact. Still, Addazio said Dillon barely scratched the surface.
“I just think that it was a process,” Addazio said. “We didn’t play him as much early and then by the time we got to midseason, he started playing more and more obviously. He wasn’t a third-down back for us. He will be now. I just think there’s a development. He was a true freshman and there’s some development.
“I believe in trying to keep guys confident and we wanted to try to move appropriately and I’m glad we did that. What you’ll see this year is an every-down complete back. I’ve got a good visual of him pitching a swing ball out of the backfield and getting a one-on-one with a cornerback. I like that visual. We’re going to be able to get that done.”
The Eagles were picked to finish fourth in the ACC’s Atlantic Division in the conference preseason poll. They went 7-6 in 2017 and reached a bowl game for the fourth time in five years under Addazio, but see this year as an opportunity for a larger breakthrough.
“We’ve been talking about, ‘How do we take the next step? Gotta take your next step,’” Addazio said. “We all want to take the next step. The next step is going from a six-, seven-win team and becoming a nine-, 10-win team. It’s this big. To get those wins, all you have to do is look at the schedule and see who you have to beat. It’s daunting. But it’s rewarding when you do it.”