USF tight end Elkanah Dillon living out unexpected dream

Redshirt freshman tight end Elkanah “Kano” Dillon set a program record with 126 receiving yards in USF’s season-opening win against Florida A&M on Sept. 5. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Elkanah “Kano” Dillon never envisioned playing football beyond high school.

Although the tight end had the size and skills, he didn’t begin playing competitively until his sophomore year at Ocala’s Vanguard High.

College football was initially an afterthought. That is, until the redshirt freshman received his first Division I offer from Florida International toward the end of his junior year.

“I was happy because I didn’t expect it,” Dillon said. “I never thought of playing football with the intent of playing college football, I was just playing because my friends were playing.”

After FIU came calling, the former three-star recruit’s attitude toward the sport completely transformed.

“After I got that offer, that’s when it hit me. I got real serious about it,” Dillon said. “I’d do extra work on my own. Besides summer workouts, I’d call friends and ask if they wanted to run routes and things like that.”

It paid off big time.

As a senior, Dillon caught 45 passes for 596 yards and six touchdowns, leading Vanguard to a .500 season. That led to additional offers from the likes of Wisconsin, Kentucky and, eventually, USF, where he signed last February.

Since then, Dillon has maintained that attitude toward progressing as a player — and it’s starting to show on game days.

After redshirting last season and practicing with the scout team, Dillon saw his first collegiate snap during the Bulls’ 51-3 opening win over Division I-AA Florida A&M on Sept. 5. 

His debut performance was historic. Dillon’s four receptions for 126 yards shattered the school’s previous record of 75 yards in a single game by Trevor Hypolite in 1997 — USF’s inaugural season.

The bulk of them came on a 62-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Steven Bench in the third quarter. 

“Going against him every day — his size and his speed and everything — we all knew that he was going to be something special,” said defensive tackle and former scout-teamer Bruce Hector. “It was just a matter of time. He’s a good kid. We just knew that once he started working hard and committing, he was going to be a great player for us.”

“He’s a big body that can run, and obviously he’s got soft hands. … He normally gives guys matchup problems, and hopefully we can take advantage of them,” co-offensive coordinator David Reaves said.

Coach Willie Taggart has high expectations for Dillon, who has evolved into a fixture of USF’s offense. 

“Every time I saw him, he’d look at me and smile, and I’d say, ‘Kano, you’re afraid,’” Taggart recalled. “And he said, ‘No I’m not coach, just give me a chance and I’ll show you, coach.’ And sure enough, I gave him that opportunity and he went out and took advantage of it. 

“I think he’s going to have one heck of a career here when it’s all said and done.”

While USF’s coaching staff was drawn to the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Dillon for his size when they offered him in 2013, Taggart said his attitude has been his best quality.

“What I love about the kid the most is after every practice, he asks ‘How did I do coach? How’d I do?’” Taggart said.

Dillon said his eagerness stems from his father guiding him at a young age. 

“I think I get that from my dad, because if I was to complain about not playing or anything, he would tell me to stop that and know my role,” Dillon said. “He had a hard attitude about certain things. Ever since I was young, I always had a lot of respect for my dad, so anything he says stays with me.”

After starting high school thinking he would never see his name on a college roster, Dillon hopes to see his name pop up a few more times in the record books.

“I haven’t really looked at the records. But I’ve always said that I want to break records in college, and I broke one my very first game,” Dillon said. “So, that’s a good stepping stone. I hope to keep making big plays and having good games so that by the time I’m getting ready to get out of here, I’ll have a few records in my name.”