Oct. 9, 2013
By Chad Shepard, MGoBlue.com
Standing at just 5-10, senior Drew Dileo is considered by many as undersized for a Big Ten wide receiver. But to Dileo, height has never mattered. What has mattered is something that cannot be measured -- toughness. And because of that, from the moment he stepped on campus at the University of Michigan in 2010, Dileo has fit right in.
A southern outdoorsman from Greenwell Springs, La., Dileo has made the unnatural transition to "Michigan Man" seem smooth and fruitful. Fueled by a strong work ethic and selfless attitude, Dileo has created a non-traditional niche for himself at the most tradition-rich football school in America.
From a schematics standpoint, he is a crucial piece to the offense. Under the guidance of wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski, Dileo has become the team's primary slot receiver and a third-down specialist.
He is a valued commodity by his coaches and teammates, and Wolverine fans have grown accustomed to seeing him return a punt, catch a touchdown and hold a point after attempt all during the same possession.
"He'll do anything for this team," fifth-year offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said.
Michigan has needed Dileo's sure hands and ability to stretch the field up the middle on more than one occasion during his tenure in Ann Arbor, and he has come through time after time. No matter what is asked of him, Dileo is prepared to fill the role.
Dileo in 2011
"My goal on this team is to be consistent," Dileo said. "From day one, Coach (Al) Borges and the other coaches and I sat down and they said, 'If you produce, you'll play,' so I've had that mentality."
His versatility has made him invaluable to coaches, but it isn't his hands, resourcefulness or even leadership that his peers and coaches think of first when describing the senior wide receiver. It's his toughness.
"Drew's a fighter from his head to his toes. You don't have to talk to Drew about toughness," Hecklinski said.
Dileo's physicality is a big part of his reputation and a key component of the respect he has earned in the locker room. The wideouts at Michigan have garnered praise for their blocking abilities which, for their position, is becoming something of a lost art.
"We take pride in it," Dileo explains, "(Coach Hecklinski) says, 'If you can't block, you aren't going to play.'"
However, the extent of Dileo's toughness goes far beyond his blocking ability. Last fall, Dileo sprained his wrist coming down from a jump ball against Michigan State. Despite playing through the injury that would nag him for multiple weeks, Dileo finished the game and hauled in four catches for a career-best 94 yards in the 12-10 win over the Spartans, including a crucial 20-yard catch with 10 seconds to play to set up the game-winning field goal.
Dileo's mark isn't made only on the field. He also has become a leader of Team 134 off it. Whether it's easing the transition for a young freshman or finishing his time as a student on a strong note, the qualities of a Michigan Man can be seen throughout Dileo's daily routine.
Dileo in 2012
"He's helping me through everything," freshman quarterback Shane Morris said. "If I have questions, he'll help me. (He's) kind of acting like a father easing me into a new situation being away from my family and everything."
Dileo's leadership traits have improved during his time at Michigan. But during a team-building exercise for seniors in California this summer, Lewan was taken aback by Dileo's humility.
"He said he had to learn how to follow before he could learn to lead," Lewan remembered. "The hardest thing to do as a senior is to listen to other guys and take what they say and put it in your life. Drew's really done that."
While Dileo's hopes and goals are set high for his last season in a winged helmet, he'll go about his business as he does every day: with consistency, leadership and the attitude that helped him find his place here. That's the only way he's ever known how to do things.
"When people ask you, 'Why do you do what you do?' or 'Why do you coach?' ... You coach for kids like Drew Dileo," said Hecklinski. "They bring a smile to your face because you love coming to work every day."