Dillon, Gandy co-write own destinies, guide Ringling to state glory
The event that defined what Ringling senior Jackson Dillon would become in 2012, namely one of the premier football players in the state and the 2012 All-Ardmoreite Offensive Player of the Year, happened long before his 130-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Class A state championship.
Dillon's path was laid out for him two years earlier, when his head coach Tracy Gandy, the All-Ardmoreite Coach of the Year, realized the then-sophomore was growing into his 6-7 frame and ready to become the focal point of the Ringling offense.
All his life, Dillon had lived with the moniker of being "Richard's boy." His father, Ringling legend and former University of Oklahoma linebacker Richard Dillon, had been so renowned during his time at Ringling that his No. 34 was the only one retired in the school's history.
"(His sophomore year), Jackson came to me and said he wanted to wear 34," Gandy said. "That's when I knew he was ready."
It all came together in 2012. Dillon had a season for the ages in Ringling, making 27 catches for 791 yards and seven touchdowns from his tight end spot, where he spent most of the season.
But it was his work in the playoffs, especially against defending state champion Wayne, that turned his season into the stuff of legend.
With the team in a 19-point third quarter hole, Gandy turned to Dillon at running back, a role he had seen only sparse action in leading up that week.
"Going into the playoffs, I told him that a night was coming where we were going to need him," Gandy said. "He told me, 'Coach, I'll be ready whenever you need me."
Was he ever. Dillon took over against Wayne, scoring three second-half touchdowns, including a 30-yard burst with less than 2 minutes left in the fourth that completed a stunning 26-point turnaround that gave Ringling a 40-33 win.
From that point, the team's fate was all but sealed. It would go as far as Dillon would take it.
"I felt like at that point, we knew we wouldn't be denied," Dillon said.
Dillon would finish his brief career at tailback with 73 carries for 620 yards and an astonishing 14 touchdowns.
To put it in perspective, the senior scored a touchdown on roughly every fifth carry, at a clip of 8.5 yards per run. And the bulk of those carries came against Ringling's final three opponents, who entered their games against the Blue Devils with one combined loss.
"It didn't hit me until the playoffs that each game could be my last one," Dillon said. "I didn't want any loss to be my last game."
Gandy showed masterful touch in leading his talented Ringling squad through a ringer of a postseason, surviving the thriller on the road against Wayne, then thoroughly outplanning and outwitting previously unbeaten Texhoma and Wynnewood en route to the Blue Devils' fourth state title in school history.
It was an enormous burden lifted off the shoulders of Gandy, who spent years living with a single, consuming fear: whether he could put it all together on the biggest of stages.
"I wondered if I could win 'The Big Game,'" Gandy said. "Whether it was the second round, the third round, whatever ... there was that little part that wondered."
Wonder no more. Gandy's unique trust in his players and meticulous attention to detail payed off, returning the Gold Ball to Ringling, where the first thing most visitors notice is the sign welcoming them to town.
It reads: Welcome to Ringling, Home of Champions. Underneath is the listing of each state championship season. It was a surprise that a mere week after the fact, the "2012" still had not been painted on.
"Yeah, they've been a little slow this time," Gandy said with a laugh.
There should be plenty of time to remember. After all, they don't make you return that trophy.