MORGANTOWN, W.Va– West Virginia University’s punt return was dreadful during the 2014 season, recording just 82 total punt return yards. The Mountaineers were ranked 105th in the NCAA FBS, and the coaching staff tried several players at the position.
However, the struggles continued the entire season.
During the spring game, things turned around when KJ Dillon was messing around with his teammates.
“Before the spring game I was out there talking to some of the returners and messed around and caught a couple,” the senior safety said. “He (coach Dana Holgorsen) said ‘looking good. He’s looking good.’ So in the spring game he said go back there and catch some punts so that’s what I did. I guess the rest is history.”
Catching punts on an empty football field is a lot simpler than doing it during a game. Dillon had to put a lot of hard work in over the summer.
“That’s easy, just go catch it,” Dillon said. “But then during practice, they started shoving 11 guys at me, sometimes an extra guy just to mess up my focus.
“At first I wasn’t used to so many guys being around me so I would try to make a move before I would catch the ball. I think I am getting better at catching the ball first.”
For Dillon, returning punts was a new game. He had never done it at WVU or even in high school.
But Dillon has no fear. He just wants to do what is in his team’s best interest.
“I want to do it,” he said. “I just want to help my team. I know that was a part that we struggled last year and I just want to bring that back.”
Dillon will start alongside Shelton Gibson on kick off returns and he will be catching punts on Saturday against Georgia Southern.
When the lights come on, it will be up to Dillon to get the job done.
“Well, obviously he is a talented athlete, special teams coach Joe DeForest said. “He still has to go back there and do it in front of 60,000 people. It’s a little more pressure than what is put on in practice but when the lights come on we will see how he responds.”
DeForest thinks this year’s special team unit has potential.
“I can see guys with quality,” he said.” We just got to continue to have consistency Like I have said before we have proven to have been the best kick off return team, the best kick off team, the best punt team. We got to put them all together.”
When the Mountaineers take on the Eagles, it will be the fans first glimpse at a revamped special teams unit and at Dillon in his new role.
No matter what happens, you have to root for the guy willing to take on a new role in his final year in the old gold and blue.