CHAPMANVILLE — The Chapmanville Regional High School football team’s re-emergence and meteoric rise back into the Class AA playoffs this season had many many bright spots.
One of those was the Tigers’ special teams.
And when you talk about Chapmanville’s special teams you are talking about senior Tanner Dillon, who handled all of the Tigers’ place-kicking, punting and kickoff chores.
Dillon had an outstanding season — an All-State worthy type of football campaign — and helped Chapmanville go 7-4 and reach the Class AA playoffs for the first time in four years.
Chapmanville football fans have never really seen this before.
Going back decades, the Tigers were not all that well known for producing good kickers.
But this year was different.
Dillon broke three Chapmanville kicking records.
One of which was extra point accuracy as Dillon successful made 92 percent of his PATs as he was 46-for-50.
It was almost automatic this season, like the old NFL extra point kicks snapped from the 3-yard line.
If the Tigers scored a touchdown you knew Dillon was going to make the point after kick.
The strong-legged Dillon also made 3-of-4 of his field goal attempts — another Chapmanville record.
One of those kicks was the winner at Herbert Hoover — a 35-yard boot with five seconds left which gave the Tigers a 38-35 win at Falling Rock in Week 2.
The dramatic field goal ended up having far-reaching implications for the Tigers deep into the season. Had Dillon missed the kick and Chapmanville ended up losing to the Huskies in overtime, the Tigers would have likely played on the road in the first round of the playoffs. Chapmanville took the No. 8 seed and ended up hosting Robert C. Byrd a couple of weeks ago, falling 42-14 to the Eagles in only the second ever post-season game hosted by the Tigers in the Town of Chapmanville.
Dillon also had a great season as Chapmanville’s punter. He punted 25 times for an average of 34.1 yards per boot.
Dillon, who was also the Tigers’ feature running back, rushing for 997 yards on 207 carries and scoring 13 touchdowns on the season, hopes to take his kicking game to the collegiate level.
The first step to that goal is the Ray Guy Pro Kicker Camp. Dillon has been invited to attend the camp, set for Dec. 5-6 in Huntington.
Dillon, a four year starter at Chapmanville and resident of Hewett, is focusing on taking his kicking game to the next level and hopes to get notice at the camp, in which kickers will work on the nuances of field goal kicking, punting and kickoffs.
Dillon said he worked a lot on his kicking during the off-season and his coaches took notice.
CRHS coach George Barker said back in August he would use Dillon a lot more during the 2015 season and wouldn’t hesitate to put him in to kick field goals if the situation was right.
The installation of the Field Turf at Tiger Stadium also was a help to Dillon in that he would have a good surface to kick on instead of a muddy, wet field.
“The kicking game for me was a way to make the team my freshman year,” Dillon said. “When most of the other freshman were content to play JV and watch, I knew I wanted out on the field to get into the game. (Special teams) Coach Larry Dingess asked me if I could do anything for special teams. I told him I could kick a little. He said for me to show him. The first kick hit a car and next hit a player. The next kick went 50 yards. He said, ‘We may have a place for you.’”
Dillon has a soccer background and he said this is what got him interested in being a football kicker.
“The kicking started for me with soccer in Cross Lanes and Boone County being coached by my dad,” Dillon said. “I played in the Boone County Soccer League and I was influenced by Mrs. Harper’s encouragement and Tristan Moore and they started pushing me to be a better goalie. That’s when I knew I could dictate a game with my kicking.”
Dillon’s strong kickoffs often put opposing teams in the hole.
“High school kickoffs have became very scientific for us. I concentrated on the placement of the kickoff,” he said. “Just booming it down the field is caveman mentality. If the ball crosses the goal line in the air, the ball is dead and comes out to the 20. Our strategic plan was three-fold — to put ball into open space to make the returning team make bad mental adjustment or recover ball, to place the ball in location that we could do pincer movement, and to limit the return or do an on-side kick.”
To test his accuracy, Dillon said he would put trash cans out on the Field Turf.
“I usually put trash cans up in several places on the field and kicked about two dozen balls to test my accuracy,” he said.
Dillon said he also worked a lot on his on-side kicks.
If you follow Chapmanville football and know how a George Barker team operates, a surprise on-side kick is always a possibility.
“All of these factors together, makes kickoffs a very interesting and strategic game plan,” Dillon said. “Plus it gets guys in the game that wouldn’t normally be out there. We aren’t just running down and trying to knock heads. Its a calculated risk to limit a team’s initial advantage. And that has paid off. Only one kickoff was returned for a touchdown in my four years as a kicker. It was also a plus that I was starting middle linebacker. Most teams aren’t really concerned about blocking a kicker.”
As a punter, Dillon said he learned a lot from former Tigers’ punter Dustin Conley, who made all-state.
“Punting is another animal altogether,” Dillion said. “Flexibility, core strength, hand coordination and ability to do it under pressure are all factored in. My sophomore, year I started being allowed to punt. We had a very good punter my freshman year who made all-state in Dustin Conley. I learned a lot by watching his game. I concentrated on hang times at first. When you have a hangtime of 3.5 to 5.2 seconds that gives your guys plenty of time to get down field.”
One of Dillon’s punts went for 64 yards this season in Chapmanville’s 35-28 win at county rival Man — a victory that improved to Tigers to 7-0 on the season.
Dillon said he also worked on his coffin-corner or angle punts — something that seems to be a lost art these days as most punters today often elect to go for the pooch punts to pin opponents inside the 20-yard line.
“The coffin corner or angle kick is also relevant,” Dillon said. “We practice this every day for field position. So kicking the ball out of bounds inside the 10 has its advantages for a strategically smart team. In my four-year year career we have not allowed any punt returns for a touchdown.”
With Chapmanville’s high-powered offense this season, led by quarterback Alex Berry (2,345 passing, 31 TDs) and wide receiver Jacob Dingess (1,157 receiving yards, 15 TDs), the Tigers were scoring a lot of touchdowns and putting up a lot of points on board.
That gave Dillon a lot of chances to kick his extra points.
“Scoring more than 50 touchdowns in a season also helped the stats,” he said. “The extra point is a confidence booster for any team. Going after two points each time and only getting a third of them or sometimes none, is very frustrating to a team.”
Dillon’s three field goals were also a boost to the Tigers this season. The one at Hoover, obviously, ended up being the difference.
“Field goals are also a boost to your players,” Dillon said. “It’s tough to get inside the 20 or 30 and come away with no points. We knew that being inside the 30 or 35 yard line we could do damage when it was needed.”
Dillon’s field goal at Tolsia earlier in the season put the Tigers to within 31-30 against the No. 2-ranked Rebels — a team which will play Bridgeport in next weekend’s Super Six in Wheeling . Chapmanville eventually lost 76-45 but the kick at the time kept the Tigers in it.
“The wheels kind of fell off the wagon later, but for that moment you could have heard a pin drop on home team’s sideline,” Dillon said. “All of these kicking skills require a good amount of practice, but what please me about it, and what no one really knows, or cares about, is the other guys who make it work for me to get a shot to do my job.”
Part of what makes the special teams and the kicking game work is your snapper or holder.
Dillon said Chapmanville’s deep snapper Andy Bias put the ball right on target all season on all of the PATs, field goals and punts.
“Andy Bias never missed a snap all season long,” Dillon said. “We also had the sure hands of Alex Berry holding the ball, turning it and holding it just right. The special teams line, which was created by Larry Dingess to give starters a rest, contributed greatly to the success too.”
Dillon said the special teams are often overlooked by the football layman.
“There’s is a lot of moving parts to pull a kicking game off,” Dillon said. “These guy’s parents may come to watch them only for a play or two but that is special to them and I thank the coaches for realizing that kids want to play. Parents and grandparents want to watch and sometimes others need a rest. That’s what makes you develop a particular skillset.”
Now, Dillon said he hopes to get a shot at kicking in college.
“I hope to take it to another level if given the opportunity,” he said.
Dillon had eight career touchbacks and his longest career punt went 68 yards.
He averaged 35 yards per punt in his career.
Dillon also finished with 2,287 yards rushing and 342 career tackles, 232 assists, six fumble recoveries and five sacks.
He had 37 career touchdowns, including five in the win over Logan in 2014.
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached at 304-752-6950 ext. 1730, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).