Wayne Maxwell will never forget the look on Andre Dillard’s face.
It was after Dillard’s junior season in high school when Maxwell, the head coach of the Woodinville High School football team, asked the offensive lineman if he had put together a highlight film to send to colleges.
Dillard looked shocked.
“He had no clue what his potential was,” Maxwell said.
And why would he? Dillard weighed just 215 pounds as a high school junior and just a few years earlier had nearly given up on his football career countless times before it ever really began.
Getting recruited? Going to college? Playing in the NFL?
It wasn’t even a pipe dream. It was nowhere on his radar.
“I think at the time, he was just a regular high school kid,” Maxwell said. “Just getting by day by day, hanging out with friends, trying to catch the eye of the ladies and being a normal teenage boy. I don’t think he, at the time, saw the direction that he had going for him. That was a big eye-opener.”
On the phone Friday morning, Maxwell remembered that story while waiting at his terminal at the Nashville International Airport before his flight out of town. About 13 hours earlier, he watched proudly when Dillard was selected by the Eagles with the 22nd pick in the 2019 draft. Maxwell and Woodinville offensive line coach Mike Monan were guests of Dillard’s at the draft and watched the latest chapter in what has been a pretty incredible story.
Maxwell got around five or six hours of restless sleep on Thursday night after the celebration died down (Dillard said he got about four), but he was still buzzing off the excitement of seeing Dillard, all grown up, walking across the draft stage. Really, it was a walk that began years ago.
“He’s had quite a journey,” Maxwell said. “Not like some of these guys going in the first round, being the All-American guy the whole way, big star, all that stuff. He’s really had quite a journey and he’s had things to overcome.”
(Photo: Wayne Maxwell. Pictured: (R to L) Maxwell, Dillard, Monan)
Thought about quitting 'all the time'
Truth be told, Dillard didn’t like football all that much when he first started playing in eighth grade. Recently, his mother remembered her son’s inauspicious start in the sport.
“When I first started, I was kind of a wuss,” Dillard said at the combine in February. “I wanted to try football just to say I tried it, and I thought it would make me cooler at school. The first two years, it sucked really bad. I was terrible. But something inside of me said to just keep going, and a switch flipped in me and things started looking up from there.”
But before he got to high school, Dillard thought about quitting “all the time.”
He said it was discouraging because he came to the sport late and was catching up to his friends, who had been playing much longer.
Maxwell met Dillard when Dillard was still a student at Leota Middle School. Back then, the high school didn’t have a freshman class, so Dillard’s first year at Woodinville wasn’t until 10th grade. Maxwell was working a couple periods each day at the middle school when someone pointed out Dillard to him.
Maxwell saw a kid with size and potential, but he was also told Dillard probably wasn’t going to continue playing football — “They didn’t think he had the best experience and didn’t feel confident.”
Long before Dillard was ever recruited to play in college, Maxwell began his own recruitment, trying to get Dillard to play high school ball for the Falcons.
Slowly, Maxwell began to build a relationship with the young man and told him more about the program. He told him their goal wasn’t just to make him a better football player, but a better man. Maxwell sold him on the family environment around the team and his new teammates and coaches, especially Monan, were charged with making Dillard feel welcome and comfortable on and off the field.
On Friday, Dillard credited the high school football staff for coaching him with more positive reinforcement, which was what he needed back then.
Despite thoughts of quitting, why did Dillard stick with football?
“I’ve always just had this thing about me where I like to finish what I’ve started,” he said. “I don’t like to leave anything with regrets.”
Getting to college
Things began to click for Dillard during his sophomore season, his first in high school, but he still wasn’t on a direct path to the NFL. Far from it. He weighed just 215 pounds as a junior and weighed around 240 when he left high school.
A big moment in Dillard’s football career happened during a team camp at Eastern Washington University in the spring before his senior season. One drill might have changed his life. In a 1-on-1 board drill, he lined up on a kid named Nick Foerstel from Tumwater High School. Foerstel had already been offered by Eastern Washington. Guess what happened. Dillard fired off the snap and pancaked the kid.
Eastern Washington’s offensive line coach at the time, Aaron Best, who is now the head coach at EWU offered Dillard on the spot, according to Maxwell. It was the first time Best had ever done that without the head coach’s permission.
Eventually, though, Dillard committed to Washington State after they came in late and he then cut off the rest of the recruiting process. Dillard’s father, Mitch, played for the Cougars in the 80s, so there was an added level of familiarity and comfort with that school.
He redshirted at Washington State in 2014 and in his five years in college, he grew from a 240-pound kid into a 315-pound first-round pick. He did it by snacking often, eating late and waking up at 2 a.m. to drink protein shakes.
Meeting a moose
Long before Dillard’s football career took him to Nashville, Tennessee, it first took him to Palmer, Alaska. In September of 2013, during his senior year of high school, the Falcons took a trip to the 49th state to face Palmer High School, about 42 miles northeast of Anchorage. It was Dillard’s first ever plane trip and one of his teammates was sure to give him a scare when they hit turbulence during the ride.
The Falcons won the game against Palmer, 42-7, but one of the highlights of the trip was when the team got to meet a bull moose at a reindeer farm. While some prospects have terrible stories from their past surface on the internet during the draft, here’s a photo of Dillard kissing a moose back in 2013. So scandalous.
(Photo: Wayne Maxwell)
For a long time, the mild-mannered Dillard would have probably been happy if that’s as far as his football career ever took him. He didn’t know college was a possibility until halfway through his high school career. He didn’t know the NFL was a possibility until halfway through his college career. And even then, he couldn’t believe NFL scouts were interested in him.
The kid who once didn’t even like football and constantly thought about quitting hugged the commissioner on a stage in Nashville in front of millions around the world. It really was a long walk.
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