How D’Andre Dill's lifelong determination brought him to CMU

Junior dffensive lineman D'Andre Dill poses for a portrait on Aug. 19 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Members of the football staff from Temple University entered D’Andre Dill’s home in Chester, Pennsylvania on January 21, 2016. 

Former Temple coach Matt Ruhle told the 6-foot-1, 310-pound defensive tackle commit to play football at Valley Forge Junior College, and he would no longer need Dill’s services for the upcoming season.

With his senior season already complete, Dill was stripped of a commitment, scholarship offer and Division I opportunity.

While all other high school prospects were participating in National Signing Day on February 4, Dill made his decommitment from Temple official on the day he dreamed of for years. 

“It was straight bullshit,” said Dill’s mother, Tiffany Bates. “They fed my son a dream, came to my house, looked me in my face and gave me (BS). They gave his scholarship away. That crushed my son and pissed me off.”

Dill was sold on the idea of attending Temple. He committed as a junior on April 15, 2015. He loved the thought of playing close to his mother, so she could make every home game and a lot of the road games.

Without any future plans, Dill spent countless hours on the phone with Chester High School offensive line coach Ben Johnson, updating his Hudl film and reaching out to college coaches across the nation. 

After months of hard work, there was still nothing. 

“Coach, I think I’m just going to go to school and not play football anymore,” Dill told Johnson over the phone.

“No,” Johnson responded. “You’ve always been a man to achieve your goals.” 

Damon Dill, D'Andre's father, connected him with a family friend, Eric Flowers, who had relationships with the coaching staff at Central Michigan University. From there, a plan was created and executed. 

“It was really late in the recruiting process,” Johnson said. “I reached into my pocket because I believed in this kid. I was his mentor and friend of the family.

Dill and Flowers left Chester on April 17 and made the 715-mile drive to Mount Pleasant, home of Central Michigan University, in pursuit of a dream. Friends and family in Chester helped pay for a rental car, gas and food. 

When the duo got tired, they pulled off the road to sleep. There was no money for a hotel. It was a one-day trip. 

“It was a different atmosphere,” Dill said of his first impression of CMU. “Being young and playing sports in the inner-city, I never had a chance to expand. I’m thankful I got to come up here and see different things.”

Upon arriving back home in Chester, Dill had not heard from CMU about a scholarship opportunity. On April 20, 2016, coach John Bonamego’s staff called to extend a full ride scholarship offer. 

Dill committed on the spot, graduated from Chester and began playing as a freshman at CMU just four months later. He is now in his junior season for the Chippewas. 

The journey from Temple to Central Michigan did not happen overnight. 

The Journey

D'Andre Dill and Edward Nelson pose for a picture after working out. (D'Andre Dill)

Edward Nelson met Dill in seventh grade football and progressed through high school with him. The duo remain best friends and describe each other as brothers. 

Nelson, a current junior defensive back for Morehouse College, said he and his best friend were lucky to chase their dreams of furthering their education and playing collegiate football.

Just 20 miles southwest of Philadelphia, Dill and Nelson remember violence, crime and economic struggles in Chester. The city has one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the country. The town, Dill and Nelson included, built a normality to crime. 

“Chester is not a place you want to be outside at night,” Nelson said. “You have to have your head on straight. Every corner you turn, there’s trouble waiting. If you aren’t like me or D’Andre, it’s easy to get caught up in the wrong things.”

Once the sun set and the dark skies were cast over Chester, Dill got in the gym or stayed in the house. He avoided the trouble. 

Just one day before Dill’s homecoming game, one of his close friends on the Chester High School football team was shot. Dill remembers him as someone he had to keep an eye on throughout high school.

If Dill didn’t have his head on straight, it could have just as easily been him. 

“Growing up around violence,” Dill stated, “I just had to think of the bigger picture. I didn’t want to be one of those kids. I wanted to do something with a football in my hand." 

While some kids at Chester High School were involved in crime, Dill and Nelson were different. They avoided the serious trouble and enjoyed four years of being respectful class clowns. 

During their sophomore year, the two started a food fight in the cafeteria against the senior class. After some bantering with the senior table, the first cookie hit Nelson in the head. 

“You have to throw something back,” Dill said.

Then, Nelson threw food. The seniors responded and hit Dill.

“Let’s go, Dre. Your turn,” Nelson responded. 

The food fight went from cookies to cheese to a full plate. Then, the brawl began.  

School officials found the food fight was started by Dill and Nelson, but they refused to punish them. 

Chester’s principal and teachers were more concerned with students involved in crime rather than a helpless food fight. Dill’s grades never failed, which his parents made sure of. Nelson was the class president as a senior. 

“My friends and family helped me develop into a great young man,” Dill said. “I can joke around and still keep my character, but then I also know when it’s time to get to business and work toward my goal. My family gave me a lot of motivation.” 

Dill was able to escape from the hardship of Chester with sports and family support. Even though the city is dangerous, it takes care of its own. With guys like Dill and Nelson, people recognized their talent and had their back. 

Chester coach Ben Johnson shares a word with D'Andre Dill against William Penn Charter High School in 2014. (D'Andre Dill)

High School Football

During Dill’s junior year in 2014, he struggled out of the gate against William Penn Charter High School. After being chewed out by head coach Tony Beaty early in the first quarter, Dill talked back, and Johnson immediately pulled him off the field. 

Johnson and Dill had a pivotal conversation. They were caught up in the football moment, but the talk had nothing to do with football. It was a discussion about real life.

“Our job is to teach you sportsmanship,” Johnson yelled to Dill on the sidelines. “Our job is to teach you love for one another. Our job is to teach you to look out for one another. Most importantly, our job is to teach you how to be a good man.”

At the end of the exchange, Dill hugged Johnson, almost started crying and said he understood. 

The defensive tackle went on to record multiple sacks, leading him to tying the program single-season record with 10.5 as a junior. 

“Whatever you said to Dill, say that to every player in every game,” Beaty told Johnson through the headset. “This kid is playing lights out.” 

“Even though that talk on the sideline wasn’t directly about football, it was about life and knowing how to become a man,” Dill said of the conversation with Johnson. “I got things from a different perspective. It was an eye-opener for me to listen to what he had to say.”

Making even greater strides in his 2015 senior year, Dill finished that campaign with 71 tackles and 18 tackles for a loss. He had the highlights and stats to prove his college worth, even after Temple pulled the offer.

“He put the time in on that dirty field,” Bates said of her son. “Even though his dreams were crushed, he put the time in to make it work. It wasn’t a setback, it was an inspiration to him.” 

When Dill went back to Mount Pleasant to sign the papers to join the program, Bates cried. She recognizes CMU as a life-changing school for her son. 

“I’m very grateful that someone took the time to invest in my son,” Bates said in tears. “I just want him to take off because I know he can do it.”

In the 2017 season, Dill played through a shoulder injury. He made 25 tackles, four tackles for a loss, one sack and two forced fumbles. 

After offseason surgery in January, he is now as healthy as ever, hungry for a Mid-American Conference title in the 2018 season.

“I’ve been pushing myself all summer for this.”