Welcome to Pine.
No post office.
Two gas stations.
And one dang good football player.
Derrick Dillon may not have grown up in Baton Rouge or New Orleans or Lafayette or Shreveport or Monroe, but the Pine High standout still managed to make his way onto The Advocate’s Super Dozen as one of the state’s top recruits.
He also proved something else: There’s always plenty of big-time talent in Louisiana, and it can be found in every nook and cranny of the state.
“One of our analysts thinks Derrick Dillon is a five-star prospect,” said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “He’s that good. He can make you miss in a phone booth. He is one of those guys like Tyron Johnson and Donte Jackson who can just change a game, except he isn’t as big.”
Johnson, a receiver at Warren Easton, and Jackson, a defensive back at Riverdale, are the five-star recruits in this class, and guys like Dillon help give it some depth. It may not have the star power of the 2014 class, highlighted by Leonard Fournette, Speedy Noil and Cameron Robinson, but there’s plenty of talent to go around.
“There are always going to be a lot of good players in Louisiana,” Shurburtt said. “It certainly isn’t as good as last year as far as potential goes, but you never know how it’s going to turn out.”
The class is especially loaded at running back, with a pair of star backs from Baton Rouge in Derrius Guice (Catholic) and Nicholas Brossette (University). Guice and Brossette are considered to be two of the nation’s best backs. Throw in fullback David Ducre (Lakeshore), also a member of the Super Dozen, and the depth of the class at the position is even deeper.
“The attention Fournette got last year makes you almost forget how good some of the backs are this year in the state,” Shurburtt said. “The top 10 in the state are as good as anybody’s top 10 in the country. After that top 10, it drops off a little bit. There are still a lot of good players, though, but the top guys are the strength.”
J.T. Curtis, longtime coach at perennial power John Curtis, doesn’t think the talent pool in Louisiana will run dry anytime soon. Curtis, one of the winningest coaches in the nation, has traveled around the country speaking at coaching clinics, and he knows what has helped keep Louisiana a fertile ground for producing talent.
“We have excellent rules that are conducive to the development of our players,” he said. “We have the spring training and offseason programs with no restrictions and great summer workout rules. Those things have been in place in our state for 40 years, and so it has allowed athletes to develop. Marginal guys developed into good players over time because they could continue working out and being under the tutelage of their coaches.”
While some players developed, Dillon made an impact from Day One at Pine, which sits northeast of Franklinton in Washington Parish.
Pine High coach Bradley Seal remembers when Dillon was a freshman playing in a scrimmage. It was the first play, and Dillon was lined up at quarterback.
“Right before the snap, I looked down at my play sheet for the next play, and I heard another coach say, ‘He’s gone,’ ” Seal recalled. “He was just a notch above everyone else. We knew he was special, and we all knew that this day was coming.”
Dillon has verbally committed to Florida. Some think he may flip to LSU for National Signing Day on Wednesday, but Dillon isn’t talking much or giving interviews during the final stretch.
“He’s just ready for Wednesday to get here,” Seal said. “He doesn’t like the recruiting process. He doesn’t like the interviews and the notoriety or to hear how high he is ranked. He just wants to show up and play football.”
Although he lined up mostly at quarterback and defensive back at Pine, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Dillon is expected to play receiver in college.
“He is like those guys Urban Meyer had at Florida, like Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, who can help you in the return game or just wherever,” Shurburtt said.
That’s why college coaches often found themselves trekking through rural Washington Parish. Twenty years ago, guys like Dillon might have slipped through the cracks.
“The Internet is the equalizer,” Shurburtt said. “Back in the day, you had to wait for a tape to come in the mail. But now with the Internet, you can sit behind your desk now and still find guys.”
Even the ones at Pine High — or anywhere else in the state.
Don’t expect the well to dry up anytime soon.
“Football is important here in this state,” Curtis said. “Every Sunday, they are packing that dome (to see the Saints) and expressing their emotions. That filters down to the college level and then the high school level. So there will always be talent here.”