July 6, 2015

WVU Football Dillon overcomes diabetes to excel at spur

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Posted: Saturday, August 16, 2014 12:05 am

MORGANTOWN — If there is a spot on the defense that must be in capable hands, it is the spur safety position, a position that turns a player into part linebacker, part safety, part corner.

Picture Troy Polamalu and you come up with the image of what they are looking for.

The slot plays up close to the line of scrimmage like a linebacker and is crucial in the running game. When a big back or tight end is in pass patterns, he is in coverage.

And when a slot slips out into coverage, he’s got to take him on as if he were cornerback.

KJ Dillon is WVU’s Troy Polamalu.

“To play spur you have to be a physical guy, make tackles in space, come down and take on tight ends, blitz off the edge, get the quarterback, cover slots, stay in coverage and go back deep,” Dillon explained the other day, laughing when it was brought up after he went through that litany of assignments meant he pretty much did everything but punt.

All of this, of course, would seem to indicate that someone who played the position would have to be a strong, tireless, durable athlete who will, as the year wears on, take quite a pounding while handing one out.

Which makes it all that much more unbelievable that Dillon is the man in that spot, for a year ago he collapsed after losing an overtime game to Texas, and it was discovered that he is suffering from diabetes.

Dillon recalled the series of events during spring practice in April.

“After the game I went home and laid down and within the next 10 or 15 minutes my body just started to lock up,” Dillon said. “I had full-body cramps, serious headaches, I was throwing up everywhere. I was just in bad shape.”

His mother and sister had come up from Florida and were staying with him.

“They saw me in there screaming and called the ambulance,” Dillon said. “Thank God they were there. I don’t know what would have happened if they weren’t there.”

He was rushed to the hospital.

“I was in the hospital for three or four days and they just told me I was extremely dehydrated and my body just started to eat itself. I couldn’t handle it anymore and just passed out. When I woke up the next day, they told me I was that close to dying,” Dillon recalled.

He is now recovered and being treated for the disease.

“Me and the training staff are doing a good job of keeping on top of my diabetes and making sure I don’t have another episode like I did last year,” he said.

That means he made some life changes, although he says they have not been “dramatic.”

“When you look at it, it’s do you want to play or do you want to sit. Do you want to live or do you want to die. You have to do what you have to do to stay on the field,” he said.

And so it is that he changed his diet.

“I got to watch my carb intake. All carbs aren’t bad, but they can get my sugar level up. I live my life, just like the next guy,” he said.

Except the next guy probably isn’t injecting himself with insulin.

But the thing is, it’s worth it. As he thinks back on the moment when he was told he had diabetes, he remembers what crossed his mind.

“My first thought was am I able to play football? Then I thought how will adjust my lifestyle to this disease, but once you make the main decisions you have keep on track and keep on going,” he said.

And no, he says, he’s sure the disease will not wear him down over the year.

In that regard, what looked like a setback might well have even been a plus for him and for the team.

Dillon went home to Florida before camp opened and suffered an ankle injury.

Considering that he has failed to divulge how I occurred, one can only assume there might be some kind of story there, but the fact was that he missed most of the first couple of weeks of the spring, which might go a long way to keeping his body fresh entering the season.

“It slowed me down for about a week or two and I was out for a little bit, but now that I’m back I can leave that in the past and keep working on getting it better,” Dillon said. “There’s a little rust, but practicing will take care of it.”

While he was out, Dayron Wilson, a junior college transfer who redshirted last year, and Pitt graduate transfer Cullen Christian got a chance to show what they could do at spur.

Wilson has been good enough that he actually earned a scholarship after having walked on.

•   •   •

Jumbo sized offensive tackle Michael Calicchio, who came out of New York as a walk on, was given a scholarship this week by Coach Dana Holgorsen, completing an amazing rise from nowhere to become a usable player.

•   •   •

The board members of the Collegiate Event and Facility Management Association (CEFMA) have selected April Messerly, WVU’s Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities and Operations, among its executive board for 2014-15.

Messerly joins Tim Wise (Senior Associate Athletics Director for Facilities and Event Operations, University of Miami) and Mike Snyder (Director of Athletics, Illinois College) as one of the three CEFMA Vice Presidents serving under President Brendan Fouracre (Senior Associate Athletics Director for Facilities and Operations at Cincinnati).

Messerly, entering her 15th year in the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, oversees the day-to-day operations for all of WVU’s athletic facilities, including Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium and the WVU Coliseum. She also serves as the Big 12 Conference game manager for WVU’s football and men’s basketball home games, works directly with the athletic department’s capital improvement projects and oversees all aspects of event management for WVU’s 18 varsity sports.

•   •   •

Incoming WVU freshman swimmer Pierce Bradshaw has been named to the USA National Junior Open Water Team.

Bradshaw is from Charlotte, North Carolina, and qualified after competing at the Open Water Nationals in Castaic Lake, California.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel