RINGLING — Jackson Dillon grew up wanting to be an Oklahoma Sooner.
His father, Richard Dillon, was on the Sooners' 1985 national championship team.
Jackson spent many Saturdays taking the 90-minute ride north to Norman to watch OU games, and he's heard stories about his dad's big games in crimson and cream.
Put yourself in his position, and you'd be ecstatic when the Sooners started recruiting you. Yet in that same situation, you'd be crushed as National Signing Day approached and that scholarship offer hadn't come.
“I ain't lost any sleep over it,” Jackson Dillon said with the no-nonsense attitude that he translates to the football field.
On Wednesday, Dillon, 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, will sign a letter of intent to play outside linebacker at the University of Memphis as one of three Oklahoma prospects the program landed.
Even if it sounds like a tough-guy cover-up to hide his real feelings, be assured, it's not. If he really wanted to be at OU that badly, he could have accepted the invitation to be a preferred walk-on.
Dillon isn't upset that the Sooners didn't offer him a scholarship. He doesn't operate that way, and he isn't interested in masking the truth.
He doesn't mind telling you that while he appreciated the opportunity that the recruiting process provided, the grind wore him down.
“Sometimes it would get on your nerves,” he said. “They'd call all the time. I wanted to hunt or fish, but coaches are messaging me on Facebook and wanting to talk for 30 minutes. So when they'd call, I'd get down to the point.”
Jackson never feared walking in his father's shadow, nor did he shun it. Before his sophomore year, he approached his father about wearing jersey No. 34, Richard's number that had been retired at Ringling since the 1980s.
“My fear as Jackson was growing up was that he'd hear about his dad and feel that he had to live up to something,” Richard said. “We had several long conversations about that, and I think it was tough for him at times. I think he got tired of hearing it.
“It was a relief for me, and a very touching moment when he asked to wear that number. I couldn't have been more honored.”
Whether he was playing running back, tight end, defensive end or linebacker, Jackson was the go-to guy when Ringling needed a big play, especially during the playoffs. He had two big catches in the Blue Devils' comeback win at defending champion Wayne, after trailing by 19, and he played his best game in the state finals.
Winning a state championship, Jackson accomplished something Richard never did at Ringling, and he became a star around the small town west of Ardmore with a little more than 1,000 people.
Elementary school girls cried when Jackson cut off his shoulder-length hair after the state championship game.
He can't stop at convenience stores before school anymore, because there's sure to be someone inside who wants to talk football. “I've been late to school because of that,” he said.
But he wouldn't change any of it, and neither would Richard, who works in the oil business and helps Ringling coach Tracy Gandy as an assistant.
“I'm so happy to see the success he's had, to where nobody talks to him about being Richard Dillon's son anymore; they ask him about him and his career, and what's going on with him,” Richard said.
The Dillon-Gandy connection is a unique one. Jackson Dillon played his entire high school career for Tracy Gandy, whose father, Rick, was Richard Dillon's coach.
Tracy says that benefited him in handling Jackson's career, because he knew what it was like to follow a legendary father — Ringling plays its home games on Rick Gandy Field.
Tracy Gandy is younger than Richard Dillon, but he watched him play in high school and college. On Wednesday, he'll sit next to Jackson Dillon as he officially becomes the second Ringling Blue Devil to sign with a Division I football program.
“What are the odds, out of so many football players here, that you'd have two D-I players, and it's a father and son?” Gandy said. “That's quite an accomplishment, and everybody around here is happy for them. It's a great story for Ringling, and for the Dillon family.”