Updated: Feb 27
On Tuesday July 28th QBV had the chance to speak with DIllon Salva about his unique playing career. Salva was a two star athlete in High School playing Football and Basketball. He was recruited by many great schools to be a Tight end or a Defensive End. Due to academic problems he went to Kean University in New Jersey.
After two years he transferred to a JUCO school and played Basketball there. From there he transferred to Merrimack to play Basketball and Football. His senior year he caught attention from NFL scouts and even was signed by the Washington Football Team for Training camp.
Dillon Salva has had an impractical journey, but he worked his tail off to fulfill his dream of being in the NFL! Lets take a look at how our conversation with Salva went.
What drew you to play Football?
“It’s like you either play a sport, or you didn’t. Football was the one, my Grandfather was an All-American Running Back in High School, he had an offer from pretty much everywhere in the country. He actually chose to go to the military, he actually went to the same High School as Dwayne Jarrett, who played for USC, He was the all-time leading receiver in the Pac 12 until I think Robert Woods broke it a couple years ago. There was a big article with Dwayne and my Grandfather in the newspaper.
My Dad ended up playing Tight End and Defensive End, which is what I ended up playing. He had an offer from Nebraska when they were number one in the country, Football just ran in my blood, he ended up going to Memphis University, then transferred and played at Rutgers. He was with the Jets in a rookie minicamp and I think he blew his back out.
My uncle is my High School’s all-time leading scorer in Basketball and he was also a Quarterback. My Dad was always my coach, growing up I started playing Football in fifth grade, he coached me in flag, Pop Warner, up until Freshman year of High School...
My senior year of High School I was All-State, All-County, All-Area, All-Conference, for Football. For Basketball I was All-Division, All-Area, I want to say All-Conference, I wasn’t All-State, for Basketball, but I had offers for both sports. What drew me to Football was the weight room aspect, I love pumping iron and working out!”
You were a two-star athlete, in HS, what kind of offers were you getting to play each sport?
“What screwed me in the end was that I ended up with a 1.9 GPA, because I wasn’t dumb I just couldn’t have enough fun, I was always getting in trouble and not paying attention in school. Which everybody should do and needs to do if they are hearing this and are younger than me, you have to do that s***, although I ended up where I wanted to be, it was a much rockier road than it had to be.
My first one was Boston College, the defensive line coach came in and worked me out in our weight room, he left after that he saw my grades and said best of luck. Temple came in the Defensive Line coach, a lot of my offers were for Defensive End, he came in, he said he would see me at my Basketball game that night, this was during Basketball season, he was going to offer depending on how I looked, I assumed I would have gotten the offer because I was dunking on people, then he went to my guidance counselor and he saw my GPA and said the same thing, so I never heard from them.
I had an offer to Houston, an offer to Middle Tennessee State. One day I was walking down the hall, my coach yelled from behind me, ‘Hey Salva, want to play in the SEC?’ I was like yeah obviously, and he said he got me a full ride to Vanderbilt, he said I had to finish the year off with a minimum of B’s. In my head all I heard was I got a full ride to Vanderbilt, the B’s and getting good grades went out the window.
I had real good offers like that, Fordham, Monmouth, I ended up committing to Monmouth, then they told me ten days before camp, that the people in charge of grades weren’t going to let me in, no matter how good my ACT score was...”
What made you go to Kean University?
“I played in the North, South All-Star game in High School and it was held at Kean, none of the Kean coaches, coached the game but they were all around, they got players in the game. At the time that’s when I was committed to Monmouth, I ended up bulls******* with the Kean coaches a lot. Their facilities were next to none, the training facilities, the Football field, the Basketball Arena, because I was playing both sports there as well at one point. Just a great facility, when you are there you know nothing else about it, you don’t really see what they have to offer, that kind of really drew my attention.
Especially since I didn’t have anywhere to go, I was going to go to a prep school in NJ, at the time they were allowed six post grad players and I was the sixth guy. I was late, being that Monmouth did that to me, then NJ changed their rule from six post grads to four they didn’t do any special favors, they kept the first four that signed, which is the right way to do it. So that is what brought to me to Kean.”
I have transferred two times just like you, but what made you transfer to a JUCO school?
“So, I transferred to Brookdale just for Basketball. When I was at Kean I medical redshirted my Freshman year, my redshirt Freshman year I had started at Outside Linebacker for a package that was pretty much 50/50 with the actual starter. I was on the Basketball team for a day and I had a little run in with the coach, I got kicked off.
I had come in as a Tight End, before I had gotten hurt my Freshman year we scrimmaged against Princeton. I was at D-End for that and I had not played it at all prior, I had two sacks, five TFL’s, a pass breakup, just a good game, so they switched me.
The second year is when I had playing time for real, once the whole Basketball thing fell through, I was playing a new position constantly, every year I would have played a different position. Being kicked off the Basketball team I figured I needed to find something else to do. That’s what really made me leave Kean...”
What was the biggest adjustment going to Merrimack?
“It was just a tough transition from only playing Defense, to playing Basketball, then being on a scholarship level starting Tight End. It was more so mental, it was tough relearning my technique, learning a whole new playbook, just getting the feel of playing Tight End again and running a route.
I was pretty much starting at square one at a high level of Football. That was the toughest part to me by far.”
What was it like preparing for the pro days and then impressing some of these NFL scouts?
“Yeah man it was kind of crazy, my whole life, my dream was to play in the NFL. I knew I wanted to pursue it after the season, but I didn’t know what was going on with that. I remember it was our last game at New Haven and I had caught a Touchdown. My parents were at the game and my Uncle was watching it online live, and he called my Dad and said did you know the Patriots were scouting Dillon? My Dad said what? My uncle said they just said on the broadcast, “Did you see that route by Salva, that explains why the Pats are scouting him.” That was my intro to it, I had no clue, it kind of all just snowballed from there.
I had two bowl invites, the National bowl and the college gridiron showcase. The national bowl was D2 and D3, at the Gridiron bowl I was lined up with dudes from Bama, North Carolina and Auburn. That was crazy, I did well there. More scouts started calling, agents started to call me. I found a good agent, that was probably the hardest part, who to believe in, some of them are full of s***.
After that I started to get a lot of interest from other teams. Going into pro day my thing was, I wasn’t utilized in the passing game in college like I should have been but I had great run blocking film, I was dumping dudes on almost every play. I knew what would set me apart, was my love for the weight room, getting better at that made me feel better about myself.
That drive I had really exploded my pro day numbers. Being that I wasn’t shown on tape as a threat in the passing game, I ran a 4.66, that was my best clocked time. I had 28 bench reps, 38.5-inch vert, 10.2 broad jump, I forget the shuttles. I ran my routes real well, I didn’t drop a single ball. Out of all three pro days I did, I did Holy Cross, Merrimack and the Seahawks wanted me to be at Wagner.
Then I did the Jets and Giants local day. The Jets one I was one of six people to be kept after and to get full blood work done, piss in a cup with team doctors and all of that. They had actually called my agent up before the draft and telling him I was on the board to be their sixth or seventh round draft pick. That’s when it was real to me, the day before the draft when I heard that.
The dude from Miami University who tore his ACL, the year prior, passed his physical, and he fell so they picked him and not me. I only had a choice between the Washington Football team and the Falcons. I think those were the only two, maybe the Lions. Then it was like a roller coaster after that, I ended up with eighteen teams interested in me and had me on their board. I was the 32nd Tight End in the draft class, it was a crazy ride and I enjoyed every second of it, I worked as hard as I possibly could have."
What was it liked being signed to the NFL and what teams did you get signed by?
“To be honest I was pissed off because my agent, he called me after the draft and said I don’t know what happened? He thought I would definitely be drafted or signed, mainly signed, being drafted would have been crazy.
I felt the same, so I was pissed off and I had a chip on my shoulder. I wasn’t even happy about it I was excited for the fact I got to play Football, at the highest level which is my dream, but I was not going to be happy for a second I was going to come out there, and try and dog everyone I go against.
I ended up going against two of their draft picks in one on ones, and I beat both of them pretty bad, I pancaked an outside linebacker in team period, I dropped one ball and it was the only ball I dropped out of every pro day and camp, I burned the safety on a slant and I dropped it, that kills me to this day.
It was pretty surreal when the Tight End coach, Coach Phillips, said to us, ‘No matter what happens after this, you’re an NFL player today and for the rest of your lives!’ He said that on day one and, ‘I’ll never get to experience that.’ That was kind of the only time I smiled throughout the whole camp about being where I actually got because I earned every second of that.
That was probably the most surreal part, hearing an NFL coach say that and knowing that I am an NFL player. At the end of the day it was a great experience, I loved it, I wish I could have gotten signed permanently, but that’s what happens, it’s a business, they got to do what they got to do to.”
What was an NFL training camp like?
“The first day you get there, they hand you the playbook and you have to learn it the night before all by yourself and the next day if they call a play, you have to know where you got to be. Day one was pretty brutal for me because I'm the type of player that needs to actually do it, before I know it all. Day two was a breeze I didn’t have a single MA, but that was tough.
Meetings are locked in, there’s no f****** around, the coaches are up everyone’s ass, they are watching everyone’s eyes. Besides that it wasn’t bad, the coaches are cool and laid back outside of practice and even during they wanted you to do your best so they could get their best evaluation of you at the same time.
Yeah it was up-tempo, but it wasn’t what everyone said it would be. Like this is a whole new game it isn’t even Football anymore, like super speed, I think if you prepare the right way and take it serious, it really wasn’t much different than a Merrimack camp to me.
What got you into power lifting?
“I was actually training with Mike at Exceed, and I was trying to make a little comeback, I didn’t know what I wanted do. I was training and I did a broad jump, and my left leg slid out and all my weight went on my right knee and I've had issues with that right knee in the past, no surgery or anything crazy. It knocked my Patella off track and I couldn’t walk right for a few days and it turned into a week.
I was like if I am training for Football and hurting myself, which I have never done before, I need to take a step back and reevaluate myself. I started to think, I’ve been an athlete my whole life, I need to compete, or I’ll be nothing. I thought what really drove me to play and that is the weight room.
I remembered all summer getting ready for camp, the only thing that was on my mind was, what am I going to hit for max outs, that was it and that is all I trained for in the summer. For powerlifting every lift you do, is maxing out and you are getting that adrenaline rush, you’re accomplishing something, you’re getting stronger, beating out other dudes doing the same thing as you.
That is what drew me to that, I was bodybuilding but that is so boring. Doing a million reps so you can’t feel that muscle, I was like that isn’t for me, and that is what got me into powerlifting.”
What advice do you have for athletes who may not have access to facilities during the pandemic?
“In Jersey there are still no gyms open, I'm lucky I have a few machines and an Olympic bar downstairs, where I can do my big lifts. I made a YouTube video of home workouts you can do. Like if you find a big ass tree branch or a broom somewhere, and that put backpacks on it and fill it up with as much heavy shit as you can, you can bench, you can curl, you can squat. Obviously, it isn’t the same but you can work negatives, what’s going to make you stronger, going down three seconds and going up three seconds on any movement.
There’s plenty of things you can do around the house. The toughest things for people I have been talking to that are in college, is that when you go back home in the summer you start back up with that training facility, you have trainers that are drilling your ass into the ground every day. Even though you know what you are supposed to do and how to do it and you know how to go hard, it’s almost impossible to go 110% without someone forcing you to do that.
I would just say with that being kept in mind, everyone is in the same boat for the first time in our lives. There’s no dude at home saying they can’t afford to go to this expensive place to train all summer, he has the advantage, nah, Football is going to happen, everyone is in the same boat. The players that are going to be the most prepared are going to be the ones that were the mentally toughest.
You can wake up every day at 10:00 AM, get ten plus hours of sleep, go run twenty hill sprints till you are about to throw up, your cramping, you are dogging like ass. You can make yourself do that, you can run in the sand and you can be the guy in Timbs running in the sand.
Your technique may not be hit on as hard, and doing the exact things you should be doing, with someone over your shoulder. In the back of your mind you could be thinking, I’m a D3 player, and a dude at USC is in the same boat as you right now, you can outwork his ass!
I just think right now the mentally tough dudes are going to come out and take a lot of kid's jobs because they are dogging it, drinking and smoking.
I’d say wake up every day with a purpose a lot of people have free time right now, write down your goals, plan out your days, your weeks, just if you get s*** done, you’ll be in a great spot come camp time.”
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