Boston College junior tailback AJ Dillon has a blood line connection to Notre Dame that transcends the mystical trappings of the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus and the Four Horsemen.
The ACC's leading ball carrier returns to South Bend, Ind., for the first time since he was a blue-chip recruit in 2016. The Eagles (5-5, 3-4) will engage the Fighting Irish (8-2) in a * Holy War” rivalry clash on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Dillon's maternal grandfather is College Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Thom Gatewood, a 1970 All-American who set Notre Dame single season records for receptions (77) and yards (1,123).
Gatewood and quarterback Joe Theisman comprised one of the great passing combinations in college football history in an era of outstanding running backs and wishbone offenses.
* My grandfather will be there, my family will be there and it's an honor and I'm humbled to be able to add on to the rivalry,” said Dillon, following Tuesday's practice at the Fish Field House.
* I'm looking forward to it and it's a real cool experience for my family. My mom (Jessyca) grew up a Notre Dame fan and now I'm here and we are playing against them.
* I'm sure my grandfather is going to be wearing a BC hat with all his Notre Dame gear so I'm sure that will be cool.”
Dillon is from New London, Conn., and prepped at Lawrence Academy in Groton, where he was the No. 1-ranked player in Massachusetts and the 20th-ranked running back in the country.
The strong family bond and the tradition of Notre Dame football was not enough for Dillon to start receiving his mail in South Bend. Gatewood was involved in the process, but wanted Dillon to answer his own calling.
* Part of me not wanting 100% to go to Notre Dame was because I wanted to start my own legacy,” said Dillon. * My grandfather did wonders there and he was a phenomenal player and a phenomenal person and a student as well. Nothing against him or Notre Dame, but I just wanted to be a part of my own legacy somewhere else and I'm continuing to try and do that here.”
Dillon suffered a season-ending injury his final year at Lawrence Academy, but it didn't alter his status as a four-star recruit destined for a Power-5 program.
Dillon was impressed on his visit to the Michigan Big House in November 2016 and initially committed to play for coach Jim Harbaugh. Dillon elected to visit Chestnut Hill on Dec. 2 and liked the school and the program enough to change his commitment to BC.
Dillon has thrived in the Eagles' * 12-personnel” double tight end power run game, and became the school's all-time leading rusher at No. 2 Clemson on Oct. 26.
Dillon holds school records for rushing yards (4,148) and rushing touchdowns (37) and is within striking distance of the ACC career rushing record (4,602) held by NC State's Ted Brown.
* I think we are lucky to have him, I think it's awesome,” said BC coach Steve Addazio. * I think he made a great decision to come here and to be able to be in a style of offense that would feature his talents and be at a university that would give him an elite degree.”