A.J. Dillon is slowly becoming a feature on Grounds. The Groton (Mass.) Lawrence Academy running back made his first trip to Charlottesville in June, but on Saturday, Dillon was back for his third visit. This time it was not to take a tour, it was to see the Cavaliers in action against the then ninth-ranked Notre Dame.
"Had a fantiastic time," said Dillon just before boarding his flight home on Sunday.
This game was especially special for Dillon, however. Dillon is a Notre Dame legacy; Irish legend wide receiver Tom Gatewood is his grandfather.
"Yeah I was torn," said Dillon. "Those are probably my top two schools."
Virginia offered the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder this summer, and has slowly cemented a good relationship with the playmaker from the North East.
"I've been in contact with [UVa Special Teams Coordinator and Tight Ends Coach] Coach [Larry] Lewis pretty much daily. And I talked to the whole staff at least once or some [on Saturday]."
Dillon has been very straight forward in his recruitment, saying he has liked the Cavaliers from the get go. During his time at Scott Stadium, however, he was able to see something you can't see on a regular college tour.
"I was telling everyone that Virginia is no team to sleep on," said the 2017 recruit. "But honestly the atmosphere. It was so pure and genuine. It reminded me a lot of playing in front of my family in the sense of how supportive everyone is, and I'm just talking about the fans, not even the team or staff. I feel like if I were to play at UVa I would still have that feel like my family is right there in the stands."
Although Virginia suffered a last minute heartbreaking loss, Dillon was very impressed on how the offense was run and was built to showcase players' strengths and skills. In one particular play in the second quarter, Virginia performed a little trickeration from the wildcat. Albert Reid lined up at quarterback, while both Taquan Mizzell and Matt Johns were lined up in the slot. After Reid handed off the ball to Mizzell, Mizzell pitched to Johns, who then found Keeon Johnson for the touchdown. "That was crazy," said Dillon. One play of many that impressed him.
"I loved how he [Beatty] used them. They ran the ball inside, outside, and they caught the ball on routes...allowing the backs to use their complete set of skills and leave the defense guessing. That really intrigued me because that's how I'm used too at my high school, so I feel like I'd fit in really well into the system they have in place."
With his family connections to the Irish, Dillon also kept his eyes on how Brian Kelly's men handled all the adversity.
"I liked watching the team compete, and just battle," he said. "I couldn't imagine what it takes to be behind in the fourth, with time running down and be playing away, and being able to pull off a win."
Notre Dame has yet to offer Dillon, but could one be on the cards soon for the talented running back?
"It seems as if once I get film, it will be there."
Right now his list of suitors include Virginia, Syracuse, Temple, Connecticut, Boston College and Massachusetts. Alabama, Maryland, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Northwestern, Wake Forest, Duke and Indiana are all schools showing interest.
Recruiting Impact of UVa-Notre Dame Game