The Times West Virginian

April 10, 2014

Dillon learns to deal with diabetes

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — What does West Virginia safety/linebacker K.J. Dillon have in common with Arthur Ashe, Bobby Clarke, Jay Cutler, Buster Douglas, Walt Frazier, Catfish Hunter, Billie Jean King, Adam Morrison, Ron Santo, Jack Tatum, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Robinson and, of all people, Ty Cobb and Jackie Robinson?

Diabetes.

Quite a list of talented athletes and one that could be greatly extended, showing that a diagnosis of diabetes does not mean you cannot go on to great accomplishments if you take care of yourself and follow doctor’s orders.

That is just what Dillon is doing after he went through quite a scare last year following the Texas game.

West Virginia had just lost an overtime game to the Longhorns.

“It was the scariest thing I ever went through,” Dillon said. “I’m glad that’s behind me now.”

Let’s allow him to take us back to that night.

“After the game I went home and laid down, and within the next 10 or 15 minutes my body just started to lock up,” Dillon said. “I had full-body cramps, serious headaches. I was throwing up everywhere. I was just in bad shape.”

And lucky.

If it had happened after a mid-week practice he might have been alone at home.

It being the night of a game, his mother and sister had come up from Florida and were staying with him.

“They saw me in there screaming and called the ambulance,” Dillon said. “Thank God they were there. I don’t know what would have happened if they weren’t there.”

He was rushed off to the hospital.

“I was in the hospital for three or four days and they just told me I was extremely dehydrated and my body just started to eat itself. I couldn’t handle it anymore and just passed out. When I woke up the next day, they told me I was that close to dying,” Dillon recalled.

Those are words that will get your attention.

Dehydration is nothing to mess with as an athlete — as the invention of Gatorade all those years ago and its many imitators has shown, creating an entire hydration market. This is especially true if you are suffering from diabetes.

“It was just being dehydrated and not taking care of myself (as far as monitoring blood sugar levels),” Dillon said. “I played the whole game, 90-some snaps, and didn’t even take any water.”

What was bothersome about that having happened was that the previous season Dillon had spent a night in the hospital for a similar incident, although he was able to play in that week’s game.

This was scarier, though, and has gotten his attention.

“Things have changed as far as better diet and the way I take care of myself, the things I do on and off the field,” Dillon said. “I check my blood sugar levels more and do more things diabetic-wise that I should have been doing that I wasn’t.

“It’s nothing drastic, but everything is changing for the better.”

To begin with, he’s back to a full-sized player.

Among the things that have changed for the better is Dillon’s weight. He says it had little or nothing at all to do with the diabetes or the dehydration, but the junior-to-be began last season at about 200 pounds and by that Texas game was down to 179.

Remember, this is a guy playing near or at the line of scrimmage in Division I football. At 6-1 and 179 pounds.

“Yeah, trying to make plays at 179 pounds is kind of hard,” he said.

One of the things he had to do during the off-season was to get his weight back up, which sometimes is difficult with diabetes, but he’s accomplished it, weighing 209 at present.

“From 179 to 210 in a matter of three or four months, I think that’s pretty good,” he said.

Dillon will be watched closely during the season to see that the diabetes stays in check and that he maintains his weight, for he has become a key member of the defense, a hybrid who gives them great versatility and adds to the blitz package.

“He has been very disruptive on defense and more disciplined,” coach Dana Holgorsen said Saturday before WVU’s open spring practice in Charleston. “He has always been disruptive on defense, but sometimes he was disruptive for himself or me (more) than he has (been for) opposing defenses. Now he is more disciplined, lining up better, staying on his feet and making more plays on defense, as well.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.