Sept. 3, 2009
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Former Husky tailback Corey Dillon, still the school's record-holder for single-season rushing yards, will be honored as the "Husky Legend" at the end of the third quarter of this Saturday's game vs. LSU.
by Jeremy Cothran
Retired life appears to suit Corey Dillon well. Free from the physical abuse of hard-hitting linebackers and safeties, the ex-NFL star joked recently at how productive his time away from the game has been -- particularly when it comes to his golf game.
Speaking from Southern California, where Dillon now lives full-time in Calabasas, he discussed one item that's been circled on his calendar for a long time. Sept. 5. Husky Stadium. Night game. Southeastern Conference powerhouse Louisiana State is in town.
Dillon's appearance back on Montlake will also mark the first "official" time the former Husky has returned to campus since he was last seen shredding opposing Pac-10 teams in 1996. When asked about the trip home, Dillon sighed. Admittedly, Dillon said it was a mistake waiting so long to return to Seattle. But he's committed as a Husky Legend and ready to get involved with the new regime in the football offices under coach Steve Sarkisian.
During a recent reunion, Big "W" Club director Elliot Silvers - a former Husky offensive lineman - approached Dillon and struck up a conversation with his former teammate. A month later, Silvers placed a call to Dillon and asked if he wanted to be the legend for the Huskies' first game against LSU. Dillon jumped at the opportunity.
In the same vein of what the coaching staff has done with former players, the Big "W" Club facilitates relationships with former athletes and the Husky athletic program.
"One of my goals when I started was to create a better environment for the former players," Silvers said. "And another of those goals was to reach out to some of those players and get them involved again."
Dillon, who grew up in Seattle's Central District, spent his youth following the team, dreaming of the one day he could run out of the tunnel as a Dawg. Even as a small child, Dillon recalled supporting the Huskies during the time of Warren Moon.
When Napoleon Kaufman arrived on campus prior to the Huskies' National Championship in 1991, Dillon followed his career closely. He envisioned a similar career path at Husky Stadium.
"As a kid, that was the dream," Dillon said. "Being a Husky and playing in the best stadium. And fortunately, I did some right things and put myself in the position where I got that opportunity."
But there were complications at first. Even though Dillon was the Metro Player of the Year at nearby Franklin High School, as well as an all-state selection, academic issues precluded him from attending UW right away. So Dillon headed out of Seattle towards Garden City Community College in Kansas.
Once there, Dillon compiled impressive statistics, rushing for 1,165 yards and 16 touchdowns. The next year, Dillon migrated to Dixie State College of Utah, setting the JUCO league on fire with 1,999 yards rushing and 20 TDs. This feat earned Dillon the JC Offensive Back of the Year award. As a teaser to this prodigious JUCO season, Dillon rushed for 301 yards and four touchdowns in his first game with Dixie. His exit was scripted. Once Dillon got his grades in order, he was back in Seattle and ready to play with Washington.
Dillon spent just one season playing for the Huskies. At 6-2 and 220 pounds, Dillon was a punishing runner who ran with an edge. He was also adept at catching passes out of the backfield. His talent was so evident the potential for a lucrative NFL career was almost impossible to turn down. Some UW staffers still marvel at the slick combination of the power/speed that Dillon displayed, speaking in wistful what-could-have-been tones about a possible Heisman run if Dillon had played the entire 1996 season as the feature back.
This was because the Dawgs already had Rashaan Shehee - who would later play two seasons in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs- in the fold. When the media guide came out for the 1996 season, Dillon was penciled in as the No. 2 running back. But when the season started, it was apparent Dillon had talent. In the third game of the season, against Arizona at Husky Stadium, Dillon rushed for 125 yards on 20 carries. The starting job came when Shehee was diagnosed with turf toe after the Arizona game, giving Dillon the job outright.
The one game that sticks out in just about everyone's mind was the late-season contest against San Jose State. Those connected to UW at the time said they felt Dillon could have shattered every record in the book had he not left the game after the first quarter. As it was, Dillon ended up rushing for 222 yards, and also caught an 83-yard touchdown pass, setting an NCAA record for both rushing and all-purpose yards (305) in one quarter. It was, perhaps, the greatest offensive performance in Washington football history.
Silvers was a redshirt freshman that season. When he reflected back on it, he shook his head and roared with laughter.
"Man, it wasn't even fair," Silvers said. "That's how lopsided it was."
Dillon ended the season with a school-record 1,555 rushing yards. He capped his career with a sterling performance in the Holiday Bowl against Colorado, powering his way for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The superlative season led to the Bengals drafting Dillon in the 2nd round that year, and he continued to break a few more records as a pro.
In the fifth game of his rookie year in 1997, Dillon exploded for a then-record (since broken by Minnesota's Adrian Peterson) 246 yards and four touchdowns against Tennessee. His first six seasons in the NFL, Dillon eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark every time. Often overshadowed because he played for the moribund Cincinnati Bengals, Dillon's extraordinary efforts helped put the team into the spotlight. One particular shining moment was when Dillon set the single-game rushing record with 287 yards against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 22, 2000. Perhaps more impressive was that Dillon needed only 22 carries to achieve the feat. The record has since been broken by former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis (295 yards), and later Peterson (296). Dillon, however, is one of just two players in NFL history to run for more than 245 yards twice in his career (O.J. Simpson is the other).
The grind of professional football takes its toll, though, and running backs have short shelf lives in the NFL. But in 10 seasons, Dillon reached the pinnacles of both personal and team success. After the Bengals traded him to New England in 2004, Dillon became the centerpiece of a Patriots offense with Tom Brady, and had his best season as a pro. He rushed for a career-high 1,635 yards, and helped New England capture the Super Bowl over the Eagles, a game in which Dillon ran for 75 yards and a TD.
With so many accomplishments to his name, Dillon can now live an easy life. He doesn't have to answer any doubts in his mind about his career. So that leaves time to work on the golf game and enjoy the SoCal weather. He's still kept close tabs on the Huskies, and has placed his trust in the new coaching staff.
"Everything is on the uptick," Dillon said. "We're going to get this thing turned around. We're going to be okay."