NEDERLAND — Aaron Jones typically finds himself having to move granite boulders looking for kids to come play football for Nederland. Numbers, after all, always seem to be unfavorable for the Panthers.
This year, though, the longtime coach did not have to move any sizable objects to land Jarron Dillon.
Desperately needing a linebacker and a fullback, the Panthers have their man at both positions with Dillon, a transfer from Abilene, Kan. And Jones is hoping he’ll fill more roles than just being another good-sized kid.
“He’s always setting the tone out there in practice,” Jones said. “I think he shows other guys how to practice, shows other guys that you can have fun working hard. He brings some football knowledge, some toughness and just an attitude of wanting to win.”
Dillon moved up to the mountain town with his dad after living in Abilene with his grandparents. He was at a bigger school there, but couldn’t play varsity ball because he transferred from another school. Instead, Dillon was forced to play both sides of the line on the junior varsity.
He said moving to a smaller town wasn’t quite the culture shock one would assume.
“There’s a lot less people. I mean, I think we had 90 people out (for the football team at Abilene),” he said. “Kind of different, but before I was there I went to another small school my entire life.”
At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Dillon is the prototypical fullback. He’ll be asked to block a lot, something he enjoys doing, but also is looking forward to lugging the rock a little bit. On defense, meanwhile, he provides instinct at a position the Panthers needed to fill.
“I hope to run the ball a lot, but I like blocking,” said Dillon. “I can catch, too, so hopefully I’ll get some passes thrown my way. I think it’s going to be a good year.
“I think the more talent on a team, the better overall. If you win one game, you’re going to have better luck winning a second one because the confidence is there. Hopefully, we get this first game won (Aug. 24 against Community Christian), and we’ll go from there.”
Added senior teammate Wyatt Wales: “He looks big and mean, ready to hit someone. He’ll help us at fullback and tackling, and it’s much-needed.”
Jones said he nearly did away with his offense because there was no incumbent fullback. Now, the current crop of returning players can focus on the same reads they’ve been used to, running a power game and spreading out the ball behind sophomore quarterback Michael Wood. With all the players returning from injury from last year, there was plenty of time to study the playbooks during practices.
Wales was one of two players lost to ACL injuries before the 2012 season even began, succumbing to a season-ending tear in the first week of practice last summer. TJ Bolt, a wide receiver, suffered the same fate, and Noah Ridnell and Ike Thibedeau also missed significant time — all leading to a 0-9 season.
Wales, who plays tailback along with senior Adam O’Melia, is eager to get back on the field. (He will, however, miss the first two games for violating team rules).
“It was hard to watch, them losing every game. It was hard to know you just couldn’t be out there helping them,” Wales said. “I have been lifting a lot of weights trying to get my quads stronger, just trying to get in better shape. I hope I play every play to make up for last year.”
Dillon hopes that he can help turn the fortunes of the team, and it’s not going to take superhuman strength to do so, Jones said.
“We can have a good season if we get numbers. We played a game at Lyons last year with 14 players,” Jones said. “These guys that are here, they’re ready to go. We talk about just trying to finish everything … they’re great kids and I just want to see them win a game. That’s where we’re starting, and once we win one we’ll think about winning two.”
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