WVU linebacker bounces back bigger, stronger

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K.J. Dillon can only marvel at how his best game in a West Virginia uniform spiraled into a three-day stay in the intensive care unit for severe dehydration.

It started Nov. 9 with the Mountaineers’ 47-40 overtime loss against Texas. Dillon, a hybrid linebacker/safety, made three tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up two passes, one of which was intercepted by linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski.

Texas took 90 offensive snaps, and Dillon was out there for most of them. His critical mistake was never taking a break at the water cooler.

“It’s like taking a car on the highway with no gas,” Dillon said. “You’re going to burn out.”

The leg cramps were worse than usual, but he always cramps up after games. He went back to his apartment after the game with his mother and brother, who were in town from Apopka, Fla., and flopped onto his bed.

Within 10 minutes, Dillon said his body “started to lock up.” He had full-body cramps and a pounding headache, and he started vomiting. Finally, he passed out completely.

“It didn’t feel good,” Dillon said. “I was in bad shape.”

Dillon’s mother saw him writhing in bed and called the ambulance.

“Thank God they were there,” Dillon said. “Because I don’t know what would have happened if they weren’t there.”

When he awoke the next day, doctors explained he was severely dehydrated and said, as Dillon recalled, that his body had “started to eat itself.” The situation had to be monitored closely since Dillon is diabetic — he was diagnosed two years ago.

Three days after Dillon was admitted to the hospital, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen ruled him out for the season. He finished with 28 tackles in nine games and a team-high six pass break-ups.

Now Dillon is back and ready to spearhead a recharged defense in his junior season. First-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson shifted Dillon from safety to linebacker, though it’s primarily a semantic change — he’s a strongside linebacker fronting as a nickel back.

“K.J. played a ton of that last year — that was his spot — so it’s nothing new for him,” Gibson said.

Dillon has gained more than 30 pounds since he last stepped on Mountaineer Field. He started last season at 200 pounds but slipped to 179 by the time Holgorsen ruled him out in November.

“You try to make plays at 179 pounds,” Dillon said, laughing. “It’s kind of hard.”

He entered spring camp at 210 pounds, a weight that is better suited to playing in the box and around the line of scrimmage.

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

He admitted he hadn’t been as vigilant as he should have in checking sugar levels, especially in games, but his emergency hospital stay has shifted his perspective.

Dillon said he is now “100 percent” healthy. He has changed his diet and will continue to check his sugar levels more often — including in games and practices — to keep his diabetes under control.

“Nothing has changed drastically,” Dillon said. “But everything is changing for the better.”

And, of course, he’s drinking more than his fair share of water these days.

“It was the scariest thing I ever did, ever seen, ever experienced,” Dillon said of the episode. “I’m glad that’s behind us now so we can look toward the future.”

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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