A stretch of 552 miles separates Carroll Junior/Senior High School and US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings.
For Brandon Dillon, the journey from Cougar standout to NFL player took lessons he learned from his days on the family farm outside of Flora.
Dillon, the undrafted rookie free agent, earned a sport as the team’s fourth tight end behind Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin, a couple of weeks ago.
“The thing that has helped me the most being from Carroll County is learning the value of hard work. Coming from small town Indiana the mantra is to put your head down and work hard. That’s something I got from my parents and Carroll at a young age,” Dillon said. “I’ve tried to carry that on to Marian University and now the Vikings. That’s one of the best traits to have because no one is going to hand you anything.”
He’s already experiencing the ups and downs of the NFL. He made the Vikings’ opening roster as their fourth tight end, played in Sunday’s victory, then was cut Tuesday and re-signed to the practice squad on Wednesday.
Dillon had a stellar career at NAIA school Marian in Indianapolis, earning first-team All-Mid State Football Association honors as a junior and senior. He helped the Knights win a national title as a freshman in 2015 with a 12-2 mark. The team went 40-7 during his tenure.
“It was a pretty crazy experience [making the Vikings’ 53-man roster] and something I imagined when I was a little kid. I kept developing at Marian and kept working hard to trust the process. It was nice to see all the hard work pay off for that moment,” Dillon commented. “Now that I’ve played in an NFL game, I’m trying to get into my comfort zone and have confidence in myself. I just think my story shows that it doesn’t matter where you go to school, high school or college, that if you are good enough to play the NFL will find you.
“Coming from a small school I’ve had a chip on my shoulder and have tried to make a name for myself,” the 2015 Carroll graduate said.
Saturday, Aug. 31, was Cut Day in the NFL as teams reduced their rosters from 90 to 53 players. Dillon explained that the day was nerve-racking.
“I honestly didn’t know I made the team, even up to the last minute,” Dillon stated. “In the NFL, getting a call on cut day is a bad sign and means you haven’t made it. A couple of my friends got the call and I was waiting all day.
“I didn’t know what to do as the morning went on, so I went to the facility to hang out and then practice. At practice there were only 53 guys there so that’s when I figured it out,” he admitted. “The first three people I saw in the locker room after I made it were fellow tight ends and they were all super happy for me and gave me big hugs.”
Dillon’s parents, Bill and Angie, along with girlfriend Angelica McKibben, made the trek to Minneapolis last weekend to help Brandon get an apartment and settle in.
“When we got to his apartment there was only an air mattress. That’s it. We helped him pick out furniture before he was sequestered with the team Saturday night. We set up the apartment the entire night and Sunday morning,” Angie said.
According to Angie, the call that her son would play on Sunday came mid-morning, just hours before kickoff.
“His girlfriend got a text Sunday morning that he was dressing, and we couldn’t believe it. Bill wasn’t even going to come up, but he wanted to see his apartment. It’s a good thing he went up,” Angie added. “He kept his jersey after Sunday’s game and he asked us to have it framed so he can hang it on the wall with his Marian jersey in his bachelor pad.”
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer had high praise for his new tight end.
“He’s big, he’s fast. He catches the ball. He’s getting better at his blocking. I think he’s a guy that has potential into developing into a pretty good player,” Zimmer noted.
In an earlier story in the Twin Cities Press, Marian coach Mark Henninger said all 32 NFL teams stopped by campus last season to take a look at Dillion.
“The Vikings spent all day watching film and watching practice, talking to him, talking to our strength staff, our training staff,” Henninger said in a Twin Cities Press article. “It’s a testament to his work ethic.
“There’s no question I think he was an underdog, but from the things we saw from Brandon in his time here, it doesn’t surprise me. He’s smart and he’s gifted physically.
“You don’t come to Marian to be an NFL player. If you’re coming here and that’s your end goal, then you’re making a mistake. However, we tell our players that if you work and do the right things and you develop and you do good enough, they’ll find you here.”
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins gave Dillon the nickname the “Marian Flash” during the preseason.
“Thankfully, that’s been my only nickname. It’s a fun nickname, so I was happy with it. Kirk started that whole thing and joked with me about coming from a small high school and Marian,” Dillon said. “Everyone in the NFL is really good and our tight end room is really deep. It’s a great group of guys and they have been super welcoming since the first day with the Vikings.”
Dillon had simple goals since the beginning of offseason work started with the Vikings.
“My goal coming into OTAs was to learn how to conduct myself as an NFL player. I’ve latched onto a couple of players that have been in the league for a couple years. I really tried to follow their examples,” Dillon added. “The meetings are totally different than college and you are expected to know more. This is your job, so you must take care of your body and protect yourself. Learning the playbook and learning how to conduct yourself as an NFL player has been the biggest change.”
Dillon’s younger brother, Darren, a 2018 Carroll graduate, is following in his brother’s footsteps at Marian.
“It’s exciting to see Darren so happy for me and I’m pumped for his opportunity at Marian as he gets to be the man on the offensive line the next couple of years,” Dillon said.
According to Darren, folks he runs into keep asking the same question.
“He has worked so hard to get where he is today. No one would have thought that a small Class A kid could go pro in any sport,” Darren Dillon said “Walking through town, or really anywhere when I have a Carroll or Marian shirt on, someone will ask if I know Brandon Dillon. My reply is always, ‘Yeah, I’ve known him for about 20 years. He’s my brother.’”
Angie can’t think the Carroll community for all the support the family has received through this process.
“We are extremely proud of all that he has accomplished especially with him always being considered the underdog through this whole process,” Angie Dillon stated. “We hope that all kids from all backgrounds can look to him as an example that it does not matter where you come from, you should dream big and then follow those dreams.
“It takes a village and we have had a wonderful village for both of our boys. There is no way we could have raised these two boys without the influence of some great people in our area,” Angie Dillon added.
Dillon played seven offensive snaps in the Vikings' 28-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. He was released from the 53-man roster on Tuesday and signed with the Vikings' practice squad on Wednesday.