RINGLING — In many ways, Wednesday was both the beginning and the end for Jackson Dillon.
The 6-foot-7 senior sat in a familiar spot, at the center of the Ringling gym. He was surrounded by family, coaches and friends, enough to fill the small building to capacity.
At his left, the golden football that signified Ringling's Class A state championship. It was hardware won in large part thanks to the efforts of Dillon, a monstrous force of nature that carried the ball, and his team, all over T. Boone Pickens Stadium in a rout of Wynnewood just two months ago.
But this was not a celebration of that triumph; that has already passed. Instead, it was a moment to recognize the future yet to come.
On Wednesday afternoon, one of the most storied players in Blue Devils history took the first step of a new journey, as Dillon signed a scholarship to play football for the University of Memphis.
"I feel so much relief for him," Ringling coach Tracy Gandy said. "It's such a huge decision and we all had advice for him, but at the end of the day he had to make the decision for himself."
Dillon had been committed to Memphis since June 8, but had late overtures from several schools, including in-state Tulsa. However, despite receiving a late offer from the Golden Hurricane, Dillon stuck to his word and stayed true to the Tigers.
Gandy, who served as a key advisor for Dillon during the long process, understood just how seriously his star took the process on one memorable occasion.
"The week of the state championship, there were a couple of schools here, trying to talk to him," Gandy said. "He told them to come back next week, because he had business to take care of.
"He handled it so maturely, and for that I am relieved for him that it's finally over, because it has been such a burden on him."
The clinching moment, Dillon said, came during his official visit to Memphis, where Tigers head coach Justin Fuente and his staff rolled out the red carpet for Dillon.
"It's just great people, great coaches and a great environment," Dillon said when asked why he chose the Tigers. "I feel like the program is turning around, especially with them moving to the Big East.
"They've got a new coaching staff that's already made changes, and they want a conference championship."
Dillon will arrive on campus in June and will have the opportunity to compete immediately for playing time as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker in the Memphis 3-4 defense.
"They want me to line up there and do a little bit of pass coverage in the flats, but mainly I'll be rushing the quarterback," Dillon said. "Right now, I'm just working on gaining weight, eating five meals a day to bulk up a little."
As for any worry about regrets he may or may not have about being snubbed by in-state Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, Dillon had a strong message.
"No regrets, I'm happy about my decision," Dillon said. "This is my opportunity, and there are plenty of country boys there just like me."
Gandy, however, can't help but think of what he'll lose, both on and off the field.
"On game nights, you know, you obviously miss a player like him," Gandy said. "There are players we've had here that redefined the expectations for their position, and Jackson is one of them.
"But we also miss our players, all of the ones who graduated, as people, and I'm going to miss my daily interaction with Jackson."