Dillard was one of the stars of Friday's offensive line workouts and regarded as a likely top 15 pick in April's Draft.
INDIANAPOLIS — On Thursday, former Woodinville High turned Washington State left tackle Andre Dillard retold the story of his unlikely path to the NFL combine.
How he never really played football until he was in the eighth grade, preferring basketball instead, and then put on the pads for reasons that had very little to do with the game itself.
“When I first started I was kind of a wuss,” Dillard said. “I wanted to try football just to say I tried it. And I thought it would make me cooler at school.’’
Did that work?
Most Read Sports Stories
- Analysis: What the latest Russell Wilson report means for the Seahawks
- Tongan Olympian who became a viral sensation for his oiled torso asks for tsunami help
- WSU Cougars defensive tackle Dallas Hobbs ends football career, will pursue other ventures
- UW Husky men's win vs. Stanford wasn't just a victory, it was a message to the Pac-12 that they're better than expected
- Mariners mailbag: Answering questions on spring training, lockout timelines and uniform changes
“Kinda,’’ he said.
How he decided to stick with football even though “my first two years, I sucked really bad. I was terrible.”
How he eventually took to the game well enough that he earned all of four scholarship offers as a senior at Woodinville — Eastern Washington, Portland State, Idaho and Washington State (the Cougars, at least, could consider Dillard as something of a legacy — his father, Mitch, played at WSU from 1983-85.)
How he enrolled at WSU weighing 240 pounds knowing there was a long way to go before he would ever see the field. He redshirted his first year and barely played as a freshman.
“I was this tall, skinny kid, but they saw the shoulders and the arm length and the leg length, and I guess they knew they could work with me,’’ said Dillard.
Roughly 24 hours after he relived his history with a few reporters, Dillard added another fascinating chapter to his story, becoming one of the consensus stars of the first day of on-field drills at the NFL combine Friday.
Dillard, already projected to be a first-round pick, ran a 4.96 40 — the fourth-best of all the linemen — and recorded a 4.40 time in the 20-yard shuttle that was the best of any linemen. Dillard also had a broad jump of nine feet, 10 inches that was not only the best of the day but the second best for a linemen since 2006.
All of that earned Dillard the nod from Daniel Jeremiah on the NFL Network’s coverage as the most impressive of any linemen in attendance.
“I thought what he did in testing, he was excellent,’’ Jeremiah said.
Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player and scout for the Seahawks from 2000-03 and now an analyst for the NFL Network, also raved about Dillard after Friday’s workout, writing: “Dillard is arguably the best pass protector in the draft, due to his outstanding technique and lateral quickness. All of that was on full display during the Wazzu product’s strong showing on the turf. Dillard clocked a 4.96 40 and showcased terrific movement skills in drills. With few edge blockers matching Dillard’s technical ability and athleticism, the stout offensive tackle has a chance to be a top-15 pick.’’
Marveled Austin Gayle of the football analytic site Pro Football Focus on Twitter: “That dude is freakishly athletic.’’
Combine that with a 6-5, 315-pound frame and there’s no secret why Dillard is rising up draft boards.
So fast that Dillard sounded like he barely knew what to make of it all.
“I didn’t even think I’d make it to college football back when I first started,’’ he said Thursday. “That was not in my vision at all. So this is pretty crazy.”
Indeed, the first step back in his Woodinville days was simply learning to like the game.
“I started to become good at it, positive things were happening in the game,’’ he said. “I was getting these feelings of strong satisfaction from doing those things. I was like, ‘OK.’ Usually when we start to understand things for what they are, they tend to grow on us. So that’s kind of what happened, and just learning more and more about the game and what it can bring to a life just made me love it even more.”
The next step, once he got to WSU, was growing into his frame — 240 wasn’t going to cut it as a Pac-12 offensive lineman.
Dillard spoke frankly of what the first order of business was when he arrived in Pullman in 2014.
“They just told me to literally eat everything all the time,” he said. “And so it kind of worked out over time. (There was) a lot of eating in the middle of the night. Sometimes I’d set an alarm for 2 in the morning and drink a shake then go back to sleep. Eating late at the night was the biggest key, and living in the weight room and just following whatever else the strength coaches had for me.”
He became a starter in 2016 at left tackle, replacing Joe Dahl, and held down that spot the rest of his WSU career.
The NFL, though, has often been wary of linemen who play in offenses such as WSU’s, in which linemen are hardly ever in a three-point stance.
But Jeremiah said earlier this week that Dillard has shown so much promise that scouts aren’t too concerned about his lack of experience in a pro-style scheme.
“Used to be we tried to avoid offensive linemen from the Air Raid,’’ Jeremiah said. “But they’ve done a nice job of finding this kid and developing him, and Dillard is a big-time dude.’’
Dillard played almost solely tackle through his WSU career and for a team that had a limited running game, in terms of its scheme, compared to what he’d be asked to do in the NFL. But he saw some time at guard at the Senior Bowl, showing well enough to make NFL scouts think he could also play there, if needed, and can make the adjustment to run blocking.
“I’m pretty critical of myself, so one area for improvement is definitely continuing to improve on the run game,’’ Dillard said. “I showcased a bit of that ability at the Senior Bowl, and I just plan to continue that.”
And just keep adding to a football story whose beginning he never saw really coming and whose end seems nowhere in sight.