Irish legacy a physical ‘outlier’

Notre Dame legacy A.J. Dillon attended the Irish Invasion back in June and according to his coach he has room to grow and plenty of potential.

Before becoming the head coach at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., Paul Zukauskas put together an All-American career at Boston College (1997-2000) and spent several years with the Cleveland Browns before retiring from football in 2004.

Now he coaches one of the top private school programs in Massachusetts and has played an important role in the development of junior running back A.J. Dillon, the grandson of former Notre Dame standout Tom Gatewood. Dillon, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior, attended the Irish Invasion back in June.

“He’s kind of an outlier physically,” Zukauskas said. “He keeps getting bigger, not just from lifting and doing those things, but he’s just a really naturally big kid. He’s got size 15 feet and he has a huge lower body. There’s just a lot of room for growth even still. He’s got a really muscular body, so he’s not a pudgy kid at 230 pounds. He’s almost lean at 230 pounds.”

Notre Dame’s interest in Dillon intensified after the camp, where the Irish coaching staff watched him post a 10-foot, 4-inch broad jump and beat all the other running backs in the 40-yard dash. He also scored touchdowns on all seven of his one-on-one repetitions.

Zukauskas wasn’t surprised.

He has seen Dillon excel on the field the past two seasons.

“He’s a big, powerful running back,” Zukauskas said. “He’s 230 pounds and he’s got really great vision. I think for a kid that size, he can really separate himself. He can see the field and read keys and he’s got great instincts, which is tough to coach.”

Dillon’s ability to run away from linebackers and safeties doesn’t stop him from running over them when necessary.

“He’s a real physical runner too,” Zukauskas said. “I think he likes to really impose his will, especially on the secondary and linebackers. He’s done a great job for us so far. He’s got two more years here so I’m excited.”

Notre Dame has had its share of bigger running backs in Robert Hughes and Rashon Powers-Neal, who were listed at 245 and 238 pounds, respectively, but it’s more common in the SEC.

“You see it Alabama and other places, there are some big guys,” Zukauskas said. “He hasn’t grown in terms of height so I don’t’ think he’s going to be a 6-4 kind of guy but he could be a 6-foot-1, 230- or 240-pound tailback. He’s worked hard at getting bigger but it’s interesting to see where he’ll go physically.”

Dillon’s size could eventually lead to a position change.

“We talked about that,” Zukauskas said. “He’s set on making sure that doesn’t happen but like I told him, you never know how this is going to play out. He’s just a physically different kid. There have been plenty of linebackers and defensive ends that played running back in high school and had success in a new position. I think he really wants to stay at tailback and I don’t doubt him for one second. He can run. He’s got a lot of speed and instincts.”

Boston College, Connecticut, Virginia, Syracuse, Massachusetts and Temple have already offered scholarships. In addition to Notre Dame, Penn State has also shown heavy interest.

“Notre Dame has been very interested,” Zukauskas said. “I don’t know what they’ll do or how they’ll play this one but his grandfather went there so there’s some history there. I went to Boston College and know the reputation at Notre Dame and the academics. I’d be excited to see him at a school like that. I’ll be curious to see how it goes there.”


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