And the Jaguars’ third-year veteran receiver said he always had confidence he would so at a high enough level to be a starter.
That didn’t mean the past two years have been easy. Far from it.
Still, Dillard – who missed seven games as a rookie and all 16 games last season – has rebounded from those first two injury-plagued NFL seasons to play in 12 Jaguars games this season, and since the November 30 release of Jason Hill, he has started the last three games.
“I thought I’d be back playing, and it would be all I could do from that point on,” Dillard said Wednesday afternoon as the Jaguars (4-10) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (7-7) at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday at 1 p.m.
“All I wanted was the opportunity.”
Dillard got the opportunity, and took advantage. On Wednesday, he was named the 2011 Jaguars recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.
“He has a good spirit about him,” Jaguars veteran wide receiver
“It bothered him that he wasn’t out there on the field participating with the team, but he kept working hard and he got his body back right. He committed in the off-season and when he’s on the field now, you can tell he takes so much pride in things and he’s so thankful he’s out there on the field participating. It’s a deserved honor.”
The Ed Block Courage Award is presented annually to a player from each NFL team who “exemplifies a commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage and serves as a role model in the community.”
Dillard will be honored in March at the annual Ed Block Courage Awards Dinner in Baltimore, Md.
Past Jaguars winners include
“You don’t really realize the significance of the award until after you get it,” Dillard said. “I see the hard work I put in the past year to be back playing and to being successful. It’s just a token from my teammates. They voted for me, and I appreciate the award.”
Dillard, a fifth-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2009 NFL Draft from Rice University, missed the final seven games of his rookie season with a fractured fibula that required surgery.
In the spring of 2010, he developed a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. He underwent surgery, but suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in the preseason and missed the entire season.
Dillard said the two seasons were far too similar – too much time off the active roster, too much time rehabilitating and too much of a feeling of not really being a member of the team.
“You’re not really involved,” Dillard said. “You try to stay involved as much as you can, but it’s not the same. I look at guys who are on injured reserve now and I talk to them and tell them, ‘I’ve been there, done that – I know what you’re going through.’ I talk to them all the time.
“You have so much time. It’s not like college where you can fill your time with schoolwork and class. You’re here. You study football for the amount of time you’re here. There’s only so much rehabbing you can do. You go home and you have so much time to yourself.
“You can stay in football, but you don’t want to overdo it to where you’re just going crazy. You have to consume your time with a lot of different things. Really, it’s just biding your time. You can’t go out and get another job.”
And yet, Dillard said at one point last fall that option seemed very appealing.
“I wanted to do something – work, do something,” Dillard said. “Just resting was the toughest part.”
But Dillard said as difficult as the regular seasons were, the toughest time he faced emotionally was this past spring and summer. Fully healed, Dillard said he was ready for an off-season of conditioning and working his way into the lineup.
Instead, because of the NFL lockout, for Dillard it was the more familiar and unpleasant feeling of waiting for a chance.
“I was ready to go,” he said. “Then there’s the lockout. They pushed the lockout to 100 days, and I was ready to go. Now, I just had to stay in it, keep my mind in it. It was a tough road or me, but it happened.”
Once the lockout ended and training camp occurred, Dillard earned a roster spot, and has caught a pass in 11 of the 12 games he has played. He has 23 receptions for 223 yards this season, catching his first career touchdown in a 17-3 victory at Indianapolis November 23.
In three games as a starter, Dillard has nine receptions for 71 yards.
“They gave me the opportunity to compete for a job in training camp, and that’s exactly what I did,” he said. “It was a good feeling, but after you accomplish that goal, you want more, so I couldn’t really step back from it and appreciate it until afterward.
“I’m still wanting to make plays on the field and do things I have to do to help the team win. I can’t sit back and appreciate the work or the award until I have time to take that deep breath.”