MORGANTOWN — There are some people who may be intimidated facing Alabama, as West Virginia does Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to open its 2014 football season.
It’s the whole package, with the Crimson Tide No. 2 in the nation, rich in history, angry coming off a disastrous end to last season … and talented.
Oh, yeah, there’s talent … too many quarterbacks to settle on one, three running backs who can run over you our around you, big tight ends, shifty slot receivers and fast and athletic wide receivers.
Yeah, it can be intimidating to some people, but don’t count K.J. Dillon among them, even though as the spur in WVU’s recently revived 3-3-5 defense, he has to deal with all those things — blitz the quarterback, hunt down ball carriers, battle the tight ends, keep up with the slots and even mess with the wideouts.
Dillon figures it’s all in a day’s work and, besides, they may be Alabama, but they’re not as good as what he cut his teeth on.
“They give me a little bit of everything, but I’m ready for it,” the 6-1, 210-pound sophomore said. “My freshman year I had to guard a guy named Tavon Austin — you may have heard of him — so I’m pretty sure I can handle what they throw at me. He gave me some good looks. I think I can step up to that challenge.”
Austin, of course, was maybe the most dynamic player ever at WVU, able to score on kick returns, runs, reverses, pass routes … quick as a lightning bug and not much bigger, he could go left and right at the same time, or so it seemed, with only two speeds — fast and supersonic.
Dillon, as a freshman, had no chance.
“I never laid a finger on him,” he said. “I wanted to … but I never did.”
Very few did as Austin is now making a name for himself in the National Football League for the St. Louis Rams.
So don’t drop Amani Cooper’s name on Dillon. Oh, yeah, he was a freshman sensation at Alabama and will be a handful here, but Dillon knows about him from the high school days in Florida when they would go against each other in 7-on-7 camps.
“DID I WIN?” he said, his voice raising a couple of octaves as he repeated the question. “Yeah, I won.”
As preparations for this critical opener were taking place, it became more and more evident to the WVU coaching staff that Dillon would be the key to their defense against this Alabama offense.
“He’s the key to making us go. He has to be effective in that position to make us good,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said.
Dillon accepts the challenge readily.
“He thinks I’m the key because I can hit the blitz he wants to run or hit the coverage he wants us to be in or help other guys do what they have to do, like help ’em get lined up. He puts that responsibility in my hands, too,” Dillon said.
Like so many of today’s young athletes, Dillon trades modesty for an air of confidence that borders on cockiness, but his comes with a smile and not only is easier to take, but is even convincing.
Ask him his favorite part of the defense and all the things he does and Dillon doesn’t have to think about it.
“Blitzing … that’s my favorite part of the defense. You got not responsibilities. You just go play football. If they call my number, I gotta go. If it’s my blitz, I gotta hit home,” Dillon says.
His is a physical game. If bandit Karl Joseph is the The Hit Man in the defense, Dillon isn’t far behind.
Dillon will punish a receiver and the bigger running backs he brings down by tackling with technique and explosion.
As much as he does, some would worry about him wearing down over the course of a game, but he figures that isn’t going to happen.
“If I’ve hit the guy with the ball 50 times, he’s taken 50 hits. It’s just who is giving up first and I know for a fact, I’m not giving up,” Dillon said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel