AJ Dillon is a big running back, and he has found in Michigan running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley a kindred spirit.
Wheatley, as most Michigan fans recall, was an outstanding bigger back during his college career with the Wolverines, and that’s what the 6-foot, 235-pound Dillon hopes to become.
Dillon, from Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., on Monday morning announced his decision to join Michigan’s 2017 class, becoming its seventh verbal commitment. He then spoke to the “Michigan Insider” show on WTKA 1050 about his decision.
“We sat down and we talked about my role and the future at Michigan, recruited as a running back,” Dillon said on the show, referring to his recent meeting with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh during an unofficial visit. “Harbaugh likes big backs, and I talked to Coach Wheatley a lot. We broke down my film and my game and ways I can get better this season and where he wants me to play in the offense in the coming years.”
Dillon is rated a four-star on the 247Sports.com composite rankings and a three-star on Scout.com.
He told WTKA it’s an advantage having Wheatley able to relate to him as a player.
“Being a big back, playing at Michigan and going to the NFL and doing his thing, it’s definitely nice to be able to talk to somebody who knows my style, knows my game,” said Dillon, the No. 1 rated running back in Massachusetts on Scout.com. “He knows what it takes and he knows how to develop me. On and off the field he’s a genuine guy and I feel l will be able to grow as a young man and be a really good football player at Michigan.”
Dillon said he brings plenty to the table.
“For my size, I’m 235, pretty good speed, still working on it around 4.55, 4.6,” Dillon said. “I’ve got really good balance, I’m a really powerful runner -- that’s one of my main strengths. I’ve got pretty good hands -- that comes from my grandfather -- and lots of yards after contact.”
Dillon is a Notre Dame legacy. His grandfather, Thom Gatewood, was a great Irish receiver, but Dillon said his family did not pressure him during the recruiting process.
Michigan and Notre Dame were among his five finalists, along with Florida State, Wisconsin and Virginia.
“It came down to Notre Dame and Michigan at the end,” Dillon told WTKA. “Obviously they’re both great schools. I had to, for my recruiting, I had to set aside the personal family ties and do what’s best for me. I have an amazing relationship with the staff at Notre Dame. It was very hard telling them yesterday that I wasn’t going to be attending Notre Dame. But I feel like Michigan, and my family feels like Michigan, is the best place for me the next few years. I talked to Coach Harbaugh this morning and the whole staff, and they’re very excited, I’m very excited.”
Dillon rushed for 1,722 yards and 23 TD for Lawrence this past season, averaging 10.9 yards per carry. He has rushed for 3,502 yards in three seasons.
Since he was a youngster, Dillon said he has known about Michigan.
“My interest with Michigan has been there since I was a little kid playing NCAA on the PlayStation 2,” Dillon said. “After I got that offer and saw the interest was real, I started talking to coaches there and establishing a relationship. When I got out there on my visit, I got to see the facilities, which were top-notch. I got to meet the staff, and they welcomed me with open arms. I got to see the academic facility and the city of Ann Arbor, and I said that’s a community and a program I can thrive in.”
MICHIGAN FOOTBALL COMMITMENTS 2017
J'Marick Woods, S, Florence (Ala.) High
AJ Dillon, RB, Lawrence Academy, Groton, Mass.
Josh Ross, LB, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
Dylan McCaffrey, QB Valor Christian High, Highlands Ranch, Colo.
JaRaymond Hall, OT, Oak Park
Kurt Taylor, RB, Newton High, Covington, Mass.
Benjamin St. Juste, CB, Cegep du Vieux Montreal
Carter Dunaway, TE, Birmingham Brother Rice