CHARLOTTE — A year ago, Boston College’s A.J. Dillon was a relatively anonymous freshman running back who eventually sprung on the radar of the Atlantic Coast Conference by trampling over defenses.
This season, he’s a college football A-lister.
Dillon, a 6-foot, 240-pounder from New London, Conn., was among 31 candidates nominated Wednesday for the 2018 Doak Walker Award, which recognizes college football’s top running back.The 2018 recipient will be announced live on ESPN’s “Home Depot College Football Awards” at 6 p.m. on Dec. 6.
From that preseason pool, 10 semifinalists will be selected in November, then whittled down to three later in the month before the winner is announced in December.
Dillon threw himself into the mix of the top running backs in the country last season by piling up 1,589 yards to set a BC freshman rushing record. It was the second-highest single-season rushing total in ACC history and Dillon went on to win ACC freshman of year.
The competition for the honor includes Stanford’s Bryce Love , Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins .
The only Doak Walker Award winner in BC history is Andre Williams , who ran for a school record 2,177 yards in 2013.
Dillon has set his sights on Williams’s record and it’s more than feasible considering 1,256 of the yards he rushed for a year ago came in the final seven games of the season.
Steps in transparency
The NCAA is bracing itself for a new world after the Supreme Court’s decision in May to strike down federal laws against gambling.
NCAA president Mark Emmert has already taken the stance that the organization’s priorities are “the integrity of competition and student-athlete well-being.”
At the ACC Kickoff Wednesday, league commissioner John Swofford said he spoke to several coaches about the issue and the importance of transparency among programs in terms of both reporting injuries and disciplinary actions.
“I think the ultimate question with us is how do you protect the players and the integrity of the game and what’s different now that some things are legal from when it was illegal, and what does that change,” Swofford said. “But the ultimate question is how do we protect our players.”
In the past, there had been a gentleman’s agreement among programs to share injury information publicly. This year, however, Swofford said the conference chose to be transparent. He even suggested implementing a national injury report.
“I think that’s critically important, and would include not only injuries, but if there’s disciplinary action where a player is suspended for a game or for whatever reason, that would need to be a part of it as well,” Swofford said. “And I think that reduces to some degree people you don’t really want coming around players and managers and doctors and anybody associated with the program, coaches, trying to get information in another kind of way, in an underhanded kind of way.
“My general feeling, and I sense that our coaches’ general feeling is the same, that that’s probably something that needs to happen on a national basis. I don’t think it’ll happen for this season.
“I suspect it’ll be for next season, but I’ll be surprised if that’s not in place.”
While the Matthew Gfeller Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is one of the country’s most respected institutions for sports-related traumatic brain injury research, Tar Heels football coach Larry Fedora apparently doesn’t completely buy into it.
Despite the long list of players diagnosed in recent years with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) — from Jovan Belcher to Aaron Hernandez — Fedora said he didn’t see any connection between football and the neurodegenerative disease.
“I’m not sure that anything is proven that football, itself, causes it,” Fedora said. “My understanding is that repeated blows to the head cause it, so I’m assuming that every sport we have, football included, could be a problem with that as long as you’ve got any kind of contact.”
Fedora contended that with rule changes aimed toward increasing player safety — including the NCAA’s new policy of kickoffs — the sport is as safe as it’s ever been.
“I’m going to tell you, the game right now, the game is safer than it’s ever been in the history of the game,” Fedora said. “It is. I mean, it really is. Are there still injuries? Yeah. It’s a violent sport. You’ve got big, fast, strong guys running into each other. Something is going to give.
“But there are risks involved in the game, and everybody that plays the game understands those risks,” the coach continued. “It’s not like they’re going into it not knowing that something could happen. And so they have to — personally have to weigh those risks versus the rewards.”
Fedora went as far as to link the decline of football to the possible decline of the country.
“Our game is under attack,” he said. “I fear the game will be pushed so far from what we know that we won’t recognize it in 10 years. And if it does, our country will go down, too.”