The defining moment of John Dillon’s young career might have come in a game that he lost. Facing Hockomock League rival Mansfield last year, Dillon and his King Philip teammates were up against it, down three scores to the Hornets and All-State running back Charles Ruffin was hampered with a leg injury.
The time was ripe for the Warriors’ sophomore quarterback to take control. Dillon led KP up and down the field, whittling down Mansfield’s lead to a point in the fourth quarter. The only magic Dillon couldn’t muster was on a penultimate two-point attempt after his final touchdown pass.
KP left their home turf that night dejected after another close shave to their league nemesis, but a shift occurred. That’s when Dillon truly became the Warriors’ leader in the huddle.
“[Coach Brian Lee] showed guts putting a sophomore in at quarterback last year,” Dillon said. “I just wanted to prove him right, that I could do the job.”
Down the stretch, KP ran to a share of the Hockomock Kelley-Rex division title and represented the league in the Division 2 playoffs after winning a tiebreaker, marking the program’s first-ever playoff appearance. Again, the Warriors fell a hair short of what would’ve been a momentous win, in a 7-0 loss to a favored Duxbury squad, during the postseason.
It was another statement that Lee’s program had officially arrived.
“We were going up against a team last year in the playoff that I thought was one of the best high school teams I’ve seen,” Lee said, “but all the kids bought in and did their jobs. That’s all a result of the kids buying into their role. If guys do that, you can do great things.”
There will be more on the plate this year for Dillon, however, as he returns as the unquestioned leader of the offense.
The Warriors can no longer rely on Ruffin’s ability to crack off a home run on any given carry. The key for KP will be balance and Dillon’s ability to manage the offense.
“We’re still going to be the same team,” Dillon said. “We still run out of the I, we still run the pro style offense. We’re still going to do the same things. Our line is very good this year and we have some running backs who I think can really help us, so I don’t think we’ll have a problem running the ball.
“But we’re going to have be a more well-rounded team than we were last year.”
Dillon’s spent the offseason putting on weight and working on his footwork. He wants to be a more athletic quarterback.
Lee’s also empowered Dillon with more command of the offense with the green light to make audible calls at the line.
A mix of preparation, skill and trust have gotten Dillon this far. Now, it’s simply time for him to run with it.
“There’s not anybody else to rely on,” Lee said. “There’s not going to be somebody who’s going to move you 80 yards downfield on one play. We have to play perfect. So now J.J. [Dillon] has to step up and play more of a leadership role.”
KING PHILIP AT A GLANCE
2011: 9-2 (Lost to Duxbury in Div. 2 EMass playoffs)
Coach: Brian Lee (8th year, 42-34)
Players to watch: Brett McEvoy, Jr. LB, 6-1, 185; John Dillon, Jr. QB, 6-0, 160; Sean Littlefield, Sr. RB/DB, 5-7, 170; Joey Johnston, Sr. RB, 5-11, 175; Christian Flaherty, Jr. RB/DE, 6-0, 170.
Strengths: Team speed, swarming defense.
Weaknesses: Lack of experience at running back, offensive line and linebacker.
Outlook: In Lee’s words, the Warriors aren’t going to have a sole “dude” to rely on. Graduated running back Charles Ruffin was a once-in-a-generation-type of talent and KP isn’t looking to replace him, just adapt. Flaherty, Johnston and Littlefield will form a backfield by committee instead. ‘They’ll be rotating through because they’ll all be playing defense as well,” Lee said. On defense, KP will bring its same varied blitz schemes, causing havoc for quarterbacks. The key will be finding a replacement for graduated inside linebacker Nick Lussier, who was KP’s defensive quarterback.