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Why Shane Dillon picked hoops at San Diego over football at Colorado

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Shane Dillon was a highly touted quarterback who couldn't shake the feeling he was in the wrong sport. (Colorado Athletics)
Shane Dillon was a highly touted QB who couldn't shake the feeling he was in the wrong sport. (Colorado Athletics)

Shane Dillon loved pretty much everything about the University of Colorado and the city of Boulder. Except the reason he went there: to play football.

So how does a promising quarterback prospect who can sling with striking ease a ball into a receiver's breadbasket more than 50 yards down the field; who took a 5-5 high school football team to a state championship-winner in two years; who was recruited by Ohio State, Florida, Miami and Colorado in football -- yet San Diego State, San Diego, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara in basketball -- how does that player even think about turning his back on the gridiron?

The story's a little complicated, yet it makes a lot of sense. Shane Dillon was a confused teenager who didn't properly sort out his priorities. And he said he felt others ushered him into decisions he wasn't fully committed to making.

The 19-year-old two-sport athlete decided halfway through his high school career that he'd pick pigskin over hoops because, well, the reasons now aren't so easy to come up with. Surprisingly, the decision to commit to college as a football player came less than a year after Dillon had even played quarterback. And now Dillon, who announced his new college home on Wednesday, will play at the University of San Diego. For basketball, probably as a 6-foot-6, 210-pound small forward. His football career is done forever, more than likely.

This kind of conversion isn't common in college sports. Going from football to basketball is rare, if not unprecedented in the modern era -- particularly when you're a quarterback prospect who was courted like Dillon was. He said there wasn't an exact moment of clarity or a spark when the decision was made, but he'd been thinking about it for the previous six or seven months.

"I've been a basketball kid my entire life," he said. "I've played since I was 4."

Yet playing quarterback didn't come until he had a driver's license. Even up through then, he planned on going to college for hoops. Football really started to become a big deal when he was a junior. Soon enough, Dillon said it felt like his decision was made for him in part because quarterbacks by and large make their college pick by the end of their junior year. In basketball, you're still in the thick of it by the end of the junior season, and many recruits often wait through the winter before settling on a school.

"I was a little bit bummed because I felt I had a few schools to choose from football," he said.

For the past 12 months, the kid had doubt about where his life was at. What can I do on the court? Do I really want to do what I'm doing right now? Was football ever worth this? In May he discussed with his parents his dubiety about playing football going forward. By the end of June, the decision was made. He enjoyed football, but it wasn't his passion.

"And I wanted to do my passion," Dillon said. So why football in the first place? Pressure from dad, partly. He had played at the high school and college level. Then came the training sessions with well-known George Whitfield Jr., who runs a quarterback training academy in Dillon's San Diego stomping grounds. Dillon, a naturally athletic kid, played receiver his freshman year and for most of his sophomore year. But the team wasn't that good, and so he got a shot at running the offense. Dillon said the reason he played quarterback, or was even open to it, was because of his father. And he enjoyed it as a high school activity.

"He pushed me into playing QB and said I had a real future in it," Dillon said of his father.

Soon enough, Dillon's talent at quarterback was evident. The summer going into his junior year was spent by taking a "college rock tour" on the East Coast. Camps galore, too. Then came the recruiting calls, much more for football than basketball. He was getting about 15 calls per week after he got home from school.

"It's taxing," the 19-year-old Dillon said. "At one point, I absolutely hated the recruiting process. I never really felt like I got to spend time alone because I was always on the phone or always talking to my parents about that schools I thought were interesting."

He looked forward to AAU basketball -- playing with the San Diego All-Stars -- because "it would get me away from the football recruiting aspect. I looked at that a little bit this past year, and I've always loved basketball more."

In talking on the phone with Dillon this week, the happiness with this choice was evident, as was the guilt over missing a year on the court. Dillon in fact had to give up playing AAU basketball toward the end of his final year because of football, a choice he said, "I'll probably regret for the rest of my life." Winning that state title was an incredible accomplishment. But it only put more pressure on Dillon to succeed at what many around him believed was his calling. He never allowed himself to fully buy into that, though.

Why not football and basketball at one school? Two colleges did offer him that. Harvard and Yale were the institutions willing to give Dillon both, but he passed on the opportunity out of reservation over completely losing a social life due to heavy studying and relentless athletic responsibility.

Before making the choice to leave Colorado, Dillon did approach Buffaloes basketball coach Tad Boyle. The team didn't have an open scholarship for him. Between that and the firing of football coach Jon Embree after the end of last season, the choice became more of a no-brainer as the months wore on. He told his parents he'd try to do workouts with football in the spring.

"But I knew my heart was somewhere else," Dillon said.

It always was. During the season, Dillon would sneak in pick-up games late at night, after football practice. And he upped his play on the court during formal intramural play in the spring.

"I probably shouldn't have played, but I played," he said. "That was the turning point for me. I looked at myself and said, If I'm sneaking in here and playing these games because I love it, am I really doing what I want to do?"

Dillon goes to San Diego with 13 screws forever in his right shoulder, the result of a surgery from last year. He said that surgery and the intensified awareness of concussions in football had zero impact on his decision. He completed his exit interviews with Colorado this week. Next up is a trip back home, putting himself in the position that's always felt like the right fit.

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