PISCATAWAY, N.J. –R.J. Dill interacts with his teammates during practice and games as if they were together for five years. In the film room, he is the coach when offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski isn’t there.
So it is remarkable he hasn’t even been at Rutgers for a calendar year.
After graduating with an economics degree from Maryland last December but with one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, Dill chose a change of scenery to finish out his college career, and it paid enormous dividends for both sides.
Dill, who enrolled in graduate school at Rutgers, now has a springboard to the NFL with his inclusion in a prestigious senior all-star game. The Scarlet Knights received a durable and reliable right tackle who helped stabilize an inexperienced offensive line while helping lead the program to its most prestigious bowl game in school history.
And it happened with all sides being thrilled with what they got out of the experience.
“He is a cool guy,” Rutgers red-shirt sophomore running back Jawan Jamison said. “He came in and gelled with everybody. He didn’t come in like, ‘I’m the man. It’s my starting position.’ He came in and he earned it. He wanted to work for it. He didn’t want it given to him.”
The 6-foot-7, 310-pound Dill started at right tackle in each of the 12 regular season games for Rutgers, and was a critical member of an offensive line that enjoyed a renaissance.
|Dill blocks for Jamison|
The running game struggled the previous few seasons, and averaged 97.8 yards per game (2.8 yards per carry) in 2011 in coach Greg Schiano’s last season.
As Rutgers readies for the Dec. 28 Russell Athletic Bowl against Virginia Tech in Orlando, Fla., the running game is averaging 125.9 yards per game (3.9 yards per carry) and Dill is a big reason for the spike in production.
“He’s a smart player,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “He’s always in the right spot. He performs consistently. I can’t tell you how important that is.”
Dill helped settle down an offensive line in need of leadership and experience, and he passed along all the nuances he gleaned during his 33 starts at Maryland to a young Scarlet Knights offensive line.
“He came in and I felt like he brought leadership,” Jamison said. “He was there for everybody. If somebody needed him, he would be there on the sideline to help him out and tell them, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll get the next play.’ He didn’t let anybody get down. He came in and filled that void we needed. He completed our offensive line.”
Rutgers’ benefit was enormous, but it paid off handsomely for Dill as well.
He was caught in a coaching change at Maryland that turned out badly for a number of players held over from the Ralph Friedgen era. Friedgen was fired after the 2010 season and former Connecticut coach Randy Edsall was hired.
After Edsall’s first season, one in which the Terps went 2-10, Maryland experienced a number of transfers. Dill already graduated but had one season of eligibility remaining, so he chose to finish his collegiate career at Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights recruited Dill out of Trinity High (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), and he liked Flood, at the time Rutgers’ offensive line coach. What he didn’t count on was watching his career take off under Flood and Wroblewski, the offensive line coach.
“I think I got better in the run game, and I’m another year wiser, another year stronger and another year faster,” Dills said. “(Strength) coach (Jeremy) Cole helped me transform my body a little bit. All aspects of my game I feel like I got a lot better in.
“I think I’m more physical with striking people better. Wrobo teaches that all the time. That’s something I got a lot better doing.”
The end product has Dill not only having an enjoyable season, but also eyeing a future that didn’t seem likely before he arrived at Rutgers.
Dill accepted an invitation to play in the 88th annual East-Shrine Game, which is Jan. 19 in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he will perform in front of throngs of NFL scouts and player personnel evaluators.
“I knew I needed another year to get better, and I think I got a lot better since I’ve been here,” Dill said. “I’ve been very fortunate. Coach Wrobo has been helping me a lot, and I’ve been blessed to have two offensive line coaches (Wroblewski and Flood) to help me get better.”
Another key, though, was Dill’s approach.
He entered school in January 2012, but despite his resume, he didn’t arrive with a sense of entitlement.
He began spring practice as the backup right tackle, and he ended the spring as a backup. But he never complained about it, and his new teammates continued to encourage him.
“They’ve been so receptive and treated me like one of their own,” Dill said. “I can’t be grateful enough for that. There’s a lot of ways they could have looked at me. They could have looked at me as a hired gun and not one of the family, but they didn’t, and I’m very grateful for that. A lot of the credit goes out to the guys who put their pride aside and allowed me to be part of the family.”
Flood said Dill’s understanding of the situation was a big reason why he meshed with the rest of the offensive linemen quickly.
“I think he’s been able to fit in because he’s a humble person,” Flood said. “If he would have come here beating his chest and saying he started 30-something games in the ACC, I think it would have been hard. But he came here and …he was willing to start (spring practice) on the second team and work hard and earn the job.”
|Flood celebrates a win with the team|
Dill earned the starting job in training camp and became a fixture at right tackle.
Jamison, who is Rutgers’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Ray Rice, gets to run behind Dill one more time, and there is little doubt what he is looking forward to doing a few more times.
“I like our toss play that we have when he’s out in front,” Jamison said. “He gets out there and he’s like a track runner. He’s moving and he gets them. I love it.”