The NFL dream of Eagles first-round pick Andre Dillard had a late start

Tackle didn't begin playing football until 8th grade, then he had to gain weight once he arrived at Washington State

In between classes at Washington State, Andre Dillard would duck into the dining hall and fill up his backpack with snacks.

He arrived on campus weighing 240 pounds, which was way too small for an offensive lineman project that Cougars coach Mike Leach and his staff took a big chance on offering him a scholarship out of high school. So Dillard lived in the weight room, stuffed his face with snacks and, every morning at 2 a.m. his alarm would go off and he’d chug a protein shake and go back to sleep.

Dillard would gorge himself right before bed, too, because he said, “apparently (eating before bed) that’s how people gain weight a lot.”

The dietary plan worked. He went from a starter at 290 pounds as a sophomore to 305 as a junior to 310 now, and, on Thursday night, became the first overall pick of the Eagles, the 22nd player taken overall after the Birds traded up three places to make him theirs. On Friday afternoon, he met with Eagles reporters at the team’s South Philly headquarters.

"That was the sole reason why I was kind of under receruited," said Dillard about his weight. "Mike Leach and the staff over there just took a chance with me; 'Let’s see if we can put some meat on this skinny kid.' And it just turned out to work really well."

Playing in the NFL was never a life-long dream for Dillard. He didn’t begin playing the game until eighth grade. Basketball was more his thing.

“I didn’t start thinking about the NFL until about halfway through college when the coaches said there are scouts coming through asking about you,” said Dillard. “I was surprised. I was like, ‘Are you sure it’s me?’ That gave me some confidence. Then as the words started coming in more and more about NFL this, scouts this, it kind of just clicked in my head like, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ Then I started comparing myself to NFL players or just players that I played with that are in the NFL now.”

There are two questions that seem to dog Dillard:

Is he mean enough and can he run block?

“Coming from that Mike Leach offense at Wazzu, we definitely passed the ball a lot, so I kind of got a leg up on the pass protection aspect of the game,” said the 6-4, 310-pound Dillard. “There’s that question now, ‘Can this guy run block?’ There hasn’t been much film of that. I haven’t been asked to do that a lot, but since the end of college I’ve been working a lot on that part of the game and I’m going to continue to do that and I’m really excited.”

On a conference call in the early morning hours of Friday, and prior to his arrival in Philadelphia, Dillard gave a less scripted answer to his run blocking.

“I would say I am a very good run blocker,” he said on the phone about two hours after he was drafted. “I would say that there are questions about my ability to run block just because I was not asked to do it a lot in college coming out of that Mike Leach offense. So it makes sense for people to have that question about me, but I can tell you with full confidence that I am capable of doing it just as well as the next guy and I am excited to showcase that some more aside from the Senior Bowl.”

Dillard said Friday that his experience at the Senior Bowl was his first with putting his hand in the ground. He would start each play at Washington State with both hands on his knees.

“It felt pretty natural (in a three-point stance) for me to do that, put the hand in the dirt and just drive somebody off the ball,” he said. “If that was a lot of fun, I can only imagine what the next chapter in my life will be like. I’m just really excited to get to work and improve in every way that I can.”

As for being mean enough, well, there is little doubt that Dillard is a pretty nice guy. He also came across as very bright and articulate with a good sense of humor.

So, is he mean enough?

“Oh yeah,” he said. “You got a little taste of that over my film and over the Senior Bowl film. It’s just a switch. People would think I’m not capable of being a mean guy on the field because I’m nice right now, but there’s that switch that you have to know when to be mean and when to be nice.”

Dillard admitted he was surprised the Eagles were the team that drafted him, even though he had some contact with team officials in the pre-draft process.

“When I first got the call, I saw it was from Philadelphia and I was like, ‘Whoa, wait what?,’” he said on the conference call. “I was kind of confused and then I answered it with the speed of sound. And then I actually thought the call was being dropped because the voice of whoever called me kept cutting in and out and I couldn’t hear them for about ten seconds and I was freaking out like, ‘Is this call going to fail?’

“And then I finally hear a voice, but he had already told me what his name was and I didn’t hear it, so I didn’t know who called me initially and then he passed the phone around the room to (offensive line) Coach (Jeff) Stoutland and (head) Coach (Doug) Pederson. So it was pretty cool.”