Andre Dillard’s Journey from ‘Wuss’ to ‘Superhero’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When it came to sports Andre Dillard once thought basketball was his future and wasn't exactly sure about the physicality of football, not the typical story for a 6-foot-5, 310-pound first-round pick in the NFL Draft
"I had no idea what I was doing," Dillard admitted when discussing his shift toward football in eighth and ninth grades. "I had never hit a person before, so I didn't – I was unsure if that was okay."
His coaches obviously tried to stress otherwise.
"It's like, yeah, you have a helmet on," Dillard said. "Just go out there and – yeah, over the years of progressively getting better at the game I just fell in love with it more and more and just put more of my body and soul into it, and so, definitely gotten a lot more aggressive over the years."
Even with the needed chip on his shoulder Dillard was not always projected to be the best pass protector among the tackles in an entire draft class. He arrived at Washington State weighing 240 pounds, not exactly the template for a blindside pass protector in the NFL.
But, that's exactly what arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday, weary but excited after a few hours of sleep as the 22nd selection in the 2019 draft class, a player the Eagles thought enough of to move up three spots by sending two Saturday picks to Baltimore.
Pullman to Philadelphia is quite the trip, about 2,600 miles on the map with an even larger gap when it comes the passion of the fans something the big man figured out quickly when he was greeted at Philadelphia International Airport by a host of fans singing "Fly Eagles Fly" while attempting to get a selfie with their newest favorite.
"I felt like some kind of a superhero," Dillard gushed.
Maybe Dillard isn't Superman but he's the biggest Andre since Andre the Giant was selling out the Spectrum, a far cry from the once self-labeled "wuss."
To turn into the 300-pounder the Eagles plan to trust with Carson Wentz's health, Dillard went to the weight room, along with late-night snacks and early morning protein shakes.
"I just lived in the weight room. I’d go between classes and fill my backpack up with snacks, he explained. "I would eat late at night, because apparently, that’s how people gain weight a lot. I set an alarm for 2 in the morning, drink a protein shake, and go back to sleep."
Dillard had to be given that chance, however, and he found it with Mike Leach and the Cougars.
"That was the sole reason I was kind of under-recruited," Dillard said about his weight. " Mike Leach and the staff over there just kind of took a chance with me. Let’s see if we can put some meat on this skinny kid. It just turned out that it worked really well. I gained about 20-30 pounds each year.
Weight is one thing, though. The fact that Dillard still showed top-tier athleticism and footwork while packing on the pounds and getting stronger is what got the NFL interested. He was lights out as a pass protector in the Air-Raid offense that places tremendous stress on the O-Line at times.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Dillard was asked to protect the QB 722 times in 2018, allowing only 1.0 sack and 13 pressures (a minuscule 1.8 percent pressure rate).
"That’s when my coaches were like, ‘Hey, these scouts coming through are asking about you,’" Dillard said. "And I was kind of like surprised. ‘Are you sure it’s me?’ That gave me some confidence. And as the word starting coming in more and more about NFL this, scouts this, it kind of just clicked in my head like, ‘Hey, I can do this.’"
The Eagles think so too.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen