GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon’s goal as he enters the final year of his contract is evident from the title of the children’s book he wrote in the offseason.
“Quadzilla Finds His Footing.”
Dillon, nicknamed “Quadzilla” because of his enormous quads that were measured at 34 inches last year, is set to become a free agent after this season if he and the Packers don’t work out an extension.
Dillon wants to bounce back after his production took slight dips last season.
“I think I just really need to play just a little bit more — it’s hard to put a word on it — but like passionate,” Dillon said. “I think I need to go out there and just play a little bit more reckless, so not trying to play perfect, not trying to play perfect football. Nobody does. Just kind of go out there and for a lack of words, kind of make defenses feel me.”
Then he elaborated on what he meant.
“Even though we might be running and there’s only 4 yards here to get, make it a hard 4 yards,” Dillon said. “Make sure the next time running the ball, those defenders feel that, they think about it next time, and just kind of deliver the blow a little bit more.”
He wants to stay in Green Bay, where he has made a home, started a family and emerged as one of the Packers’ most popular players. He received a key to Wisconsin's Door County after repeatedly singing the praises of the peninsula along the Lake Michigan shoreline that’s about an hour's drive from Green Bay.
Dillon also is active on social media, which sparked one of his latest ventures. After he suggested that he'd write a children’s book, the positive feedback he received caused him to go ahead and do it.
Quadzilla, his book’s protagonist, is a dinosaur who struggles to do some of his monster friends’ favorite activities before eventually succeeding in football.
“We kept everything in house,” Dillon said. “We got a Milwaukee publisher, a Milwaukee illustrator and it was all Wisconsin central. It was a lot of fun doing it and putting it together. It was a goal to get it done before camp, and we did that.”
Dillon savors the feedback he’s received, both from his own mother and from the children and parents who have read the book.
“My mom’s a teacher,” said Dillon, who grew up reading Greek mythology and the novels of Rick Riordan. “She’s now an assistant principal back in Connecticut in my hometown. That’s something that was always big in our household. When I told her I was writing a book and actually went forward with it, she got very emotional.
“I didn’t really realize until I did some of these book readings and kind of seeing the kids really listening and hanging on to every single word.”
Writing that book was part of a busy offseason for Dillon.
During a year when he was adjusting to fatherhood and making sure his book got finished, Dillon still devoted plenty of time to football. The trade of four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers means the Packers may have to lean more heavily on the running back tandem of Aaron Jones and Dillon.
Dillon rushed for 770 yards, gained 4.1 yards per carry and caught 28 passes for 206 yards last season. A year earlier, he rushed for 803 yards, gained 4.3 yards per carry and caught 34 passes for 313 yards.
When he had free time this offseason, Dillon occasionally watched tapes of his highlights at Boston College, where he rushed for 4,382 yards over three seasons. Dillon wants to have the same attitude he had then.
“I’m not satisfied with really how I performed last year,” Dillon said. “Let’s look back at when I have been really successful and how I approached the game and, yeah, looking back a little bit, looking back at those highlights, going back to what was my mindset when I was in college when I was dominating the ACC, what was that like and trying to just get to that mindset.”
Dillon’s teammates have noticed a change.
“He’s more focused,” Jones said. “He knows the playbook inside and out, so now he can play fast. But just his mental approach to the game, spending more time studying in that playbook so he can play fast and just homing in on the small details and then just him being confident in everything he does.”
That includes being assured enough to write a children’s book and get it published. The benefits of that offseason project are apparent every time parents tell him how much their child enjoyed his book.
“The fact that some of those kids are excited to go read, that’s a big deal,” Dillon said. “Coming from an education household, my mom being a teacher, I definitely understand how hard it is to get some kids to read. If we can put something in front of them that they want to read, it’s definitely nice to be able to do my part.”