Even if he lived in New York City, it wouldn’t be tough to pick Jackson Dillon out of a crowd.
As a matter of fact, it would be pretty close to impossible to miss him.
The high school senior, at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, is a distinctive sight anywhere. But in Ringling, a town of just over 1,000 strong, he’s a phenomenon that few inhabitants have ever seen.
That’s just in his normal routine of life. But when Dillon straps on his pads and pulls on the distinctive blue jersey of Ringling, his pure size is as intimidating a sight as can be seen in this part of the world.
But it isn’t enough that Dillon is bigger than almost every man he faces on the gridiron; as a tight end and defensive end for Ringling, Dillon is also among the fastest players on the football field, clocking a 4.6 40 yard dash.
“His speed is his strength, especially defensively,” Ringling head coach Tracy Gandy said. “On top of his initial speed, he covers a lot of ground and makes tackles from sideline to sideline.”
To add to his already imposing size and speed, Dillon also has a strong athletic background, with his father, Richard Dillon, a former University of Oklahoma football player who started at middle linebacker.
Combine all those facets, and what you have, according to Gandy, is one of the most physically gifted athletes in school history.
“We’ve had some dominant players here in the past,” Gandy said. “But you’ve got to mention this kid when you talk about some of our great players.”
However, as Gandy recalls it, what Dillon would grow to be was not always apparent.
A running back growing up, Dillon, like a tree, continued to sprout to the point where Gandy began to wonder just how he could use the young man on the field.
“Jackson came along in pee-wee football and junior high football, and was just a little taller than the rest of the kids,” Gandy said. “But by the time he got to his sophomore year, he was just so big we almost didn’t know what to do with him.”
While Gandy had himself a young man of extraordinary size, he didn’t understand exactly the caliber of athlete he had until watching Dillon during a baseball game.
“When he ran to first base after a hit, that’s when I realized it,” Gandy said. “It was almost alarming how quickly he made up the distance.
“I knew then that we had something special.”
Eventually, Gandy settled on using Dillon as a tight end in his run-centric offense, something that seemed natural, but soon found himself in the unorthodox position of finding ways to get his star playmaker the ball.
“He obviously is one of our most talented kids, and we need to get him the ball, but there’s only so many ways you can do that with a tight end,” Gandy said. “What we’re trying to do is be creative and move him around a little bit just to try to give him a chance to get the ball.”
But as big as his size is, it is Dillon’s heart and his capability for leadership that loom largest in the mind of his coach.
““Not many guys get to experience... just being a superior athlete and just having those god-given talents,” Gandy said. “But he’s just a team-first kind of player, a guy who thrives on leadership and doing what he can to be a team player.
“You can’t time that with a stopwatch.”
His skills have proven great enough that Dillon will follow in his father’s footsteps and play collegiate football. Unlike his dad, Dillon will be leaving the borders of his home state, as he heads to join the Memphis Tigers.
Dillon will play outside linebacker for the CUSA team, which will join the Big East, a BCS conference, in 2013.
“When I first got the letters from them, I had never heard of Memphis,” Dillon said. “But I looked into it and saw an opportunity.
“I really like the position I can play and all the coaches.”
But all that, he says, can wait. For right now, Dillon still has Ringling football as his highest priority. He wants everything that a normal high school player is looking for; a state title and the honor of being named an All-State player.
“This is my last year here,” Dillon said. “I want to make it mean something.”