2018 NFL Draft Interview: Dillon Salva, Merrimack College

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In today’s interview, I am honored to have Merrimack College tight end, Dillon Salva.

Justin David Kish: Thank you so much for your time Dillon, please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dillon Salva: I’m from North Brunswick New Jersey. I played 4 years of varsity football and basketball at Bishop Ahr high school in Edison NJ. In basketball, I was all-conference, all-division, and all-county. I also have school records in 2 point field goals in a season and blocks in a game. In football, I was all-state, all-county, all-conference, all-division. I grew up in the same house my whole life with my mom (Carol Salva), dad (Tom Salva), and dog Nikko. Everyone in my family was a great athlete so I owe all my talents to them. My dad coached me in all sports growing up and my mom never missed a game to this date they’ve been at every single game no matter where or what time. So clearly sport is a huge part of our family.

Justin David Kish: During your college career, you played for both Brookdale CC and Merrimack College. Tell us about your time spent between both colleges?

Dillon Salva: My time at Brookdale was some of the best years of my life. I had the best all around coaching staff I’ve ever had in my life. Thank you coach Cheeze, Brunson, Pastore, Fench, Wilson, and Charlie you guys were beyond great to me. We made it to the championship game and lost at the buzzer by 1. That game still haunts me to this day haha. Those coaches did everything for me as far as making sure my body, grades, the personal life we’re going great. More importantly, they were all class act great men. I ended up 2nd in the country in total rebounds and was All-Region and All-Conference in my one season there. Merrimack was an easy choice when picking my next school to finish my career up at. They offered me a scholarship in football as well as the opportunity to play basketball also. My first year I was the starting tight end and couldn’t have been more welcomed by a better group of guys. The team made me feel more welcome than any other team I’ve ever played on in my life, that allowed me to grow as a player and person immediately which was huge for me starting at a new school. When basketball started up the same thing was presented to me, a great group of guys with a great amount of talent. We made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament and was the only 8 seed to upset a 1 seed. It was an amazing first-year experience. 

Justin David Kish: At Brookdale, you played basketball before making the transition over to football. How did basketball help during your time away from football?

Dillon Salva: I went into Brookdale overweight at 275lbs and very out of shape basketball-wise. My coaches let me put together a pre-season (summer workouts) lifting packet together for me to put the team through to get us all stronger and more explosive. Then after lift, we’d go on the court and run until I couldn’t see straight. I don’t think I saw a basketball at the Brookdale facilities that summer haha. The coaches put their full efforts into getting me ready so I could produce for them. When the season came around I was down to 250lbs and ready to go. The season helped me tremendously in terms of conditioning, athleticism, and really just recover my whole body from football. Which is perfect for the position I play which is tight end.

Justin David Kish: You transferred to Merrimack College in 2016, what was your transition like from Brookdale and was football your main focus over basketball?

Dillon Salva: My transition was smooth. I’m fortunate to have one of the best trainers in New Jersey and good friend Matt Dolan. He not only got me back into football shape but he got me to a solid 260lbs of lean muscle and had me moving very well at that weight and was in great cardiovascular condition going into camp that August. Football was my only focus, though I made sure I touched a basketball at least 4xs a week it was still after all my football training was done for the day. Football is my one true love and passion. I’ve wanted to play in the NFL since the 5th grade and I’ve never lost sight in achieving that no matter what I was going through in life. Basketball has always been fun for me and I love the sport so I figured what would it hurt to play it as long as I can in life if it makes me happy.

Justin David Kish: During your tenure at Merrimack College, you were coached by head coach Dan Curran. What did you learn under Dan Curran and how has he improved you as a player and as a person during your time?

Dillon Salva: I wouldn’t be doing this interview right now if it weren’t for Coach Curran. I’ve never had more respect for a coach in my life. Every time he spoke to me I made sure to give direct eye contact and my 100% full attention and focus. Not too many guys get to say they were coached by a man who lived out their dream. Coach Curran played 10 years in the NFL and was a great player at that. If he suited up today he’d still be the most jacked player on the field haha. I was fortunate to only have him as a head coach but also my positional coach and now mentor as he guides and helps me out through the process of chasing my dream at the NFL. I’ll never be able to in words thank coach Curran enough for what he’s done and doing for me right now. All I could do is sell out and give my body up for him every Saturday trying to get a W. Having coach Curran around to me is as good as an Alabama player having Coach Saban helping them through their process, at the D2 level you’re not going to get a better coach than Coach Curran and I’ll stick to that till the day I die. 

Justin David Kish: Merrimack College plays in the Northeast-10 Conference, you played against teams like Bentley University, New Haven, and Assumption. Which game in college really took you to your limit?

Dillon Salva: The NE-10 is one of the most highly looked upon conferences in the country for D2. It was an honor to play in it. Not too many people realize a lot of teams in this conference could easily beat and compete for a D1AA conference championship in many conferences. No matter the team everyone’s on scholarship so week in and week out you have to give full effort on every play not only in the game but in practice that week leading up to the game or you aren’t going to be ready, the guy across from you is going to beat you if you aren’t prepared. Guys from this conference make the NFL every year. I think the game that really took my to my limit was New Haven this year. It was the last game of my college career. I was throwing my body around like a rag doll, I honest to god told myself “I don’t care if I die on this field today I’m giving my body up every play for my team.” They were 3rd in the conference at the time and we beat them. Walking off the field one last time as a winner knowing you gave it your all and gave this sport your all your whole life, nothing beats that feeling. 

Justin David Kish: Playing tight end you were covered by some of the best defensive backs and at times linebackers. Who was the toughest person you were covered by and how did you favor? 

Dillon Salva: I was fortunate to go against great talents in high school which prepped me big time for college and the NFL. I was man covered by Anthony Serraro (USC/Detroit Lions), Greg Jones (Rutgers) and many more great players who went on to play D1 football and some type of pro ball. Those were always my best games though. You can ask anyone who knows me or check the stat sheets I always rise to the challenge and have my best games against my toughest opponents. I have the mindset that nobody’s better than me until they prove it on the field more times than not.

Justin David Kish: When you look back at your career, what is your favorite moment you had on the field?

Dillon Salva: I have three favorite Moments that Merrimack College blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of. Both from senior year. My first one is our opening of our new D1 stadium which held the biggest crowd of any sporting event in Merrimack athletics history. We beat Pace by 40 roughly. Just the feeling of the school pride and the energy of that game is something I’ll never forget. Second, was senior day against St. A’s who we also beat by roughly 40. That was senior day and not only did we go out with a win in front of another huge crowd but us seniors got to walk off that field one last time undefeated on the new D1 field and nobody can ever take that from us. Knowing I never lost a game on that field is an amazing feeling. Lastly was my last game ever at New Haven and walking off the field one last time a Merrimack Warrior as a winner and it going down as one of the bigger wins in program history.

Justin David Kish: What does it mean to be a Merrimack Warrior?

Dillon Salva: what it means to be a Merrimack Warrior? Most importantly is to be Gritty, rugged, give 100% effort and respect, and most importantly to be “Mack Tough” which is the phrase we use as a program. If you aren’t Mack Tough you don’t belong. We’re built differently at Merrimack, nobody outworks us or prepares like we do year round. It’s an honor to be a Warrior. 

Justin David Kish: Let’s shift over to draft-related questions, how are you currently preparing yourself for the draft or any future team opportunities?

Dillon Salva: I’m currently preparing for the draft everyday from when I wake up until I go to sleep that’s my main focus. I train up here in Mass at Exceed Fitness. When I’m home I train with my trainer for speed and conditioning as well as Tight End specific training with Ex NFL starting Tight End LJ Smith. On days I’m not with any of them which is rare, I’m lifting and conditioning and getting in field work with a QB. My diet is on point to my goals I would like to achieve which is being a solid 255lbs of all muscle. Everything I do is focused on the draft. I’m not going to let my one shot at my life long dream slip away. This is my life. I’m getting bigger, stronger, faster every single day.

Justin David Kish: What is one aspect of your game that you consider your biggest strength?

Dillon Salva: I think the biggest aspect of my game aside from my physical ability that God gifted me with which is my 6’6 250-260lb frame with big hands and big wingspan. My speed, soft hands, jumping and ability to accelerate out of my breaks on routes to create good separation is something that I really use to my advantage in the pass game. I think what really separates me from other tight ends though is that I love to block. I get more of a rush after pancaking someone and having my running back get a huge gain running behind me than anything else. Also, I’ve only played Tight End for 3 years in my whole life so I have so much room to grow in every aspect of my game.

Justin David Kish: Name a point during your college career when you overcame adversity and what did you learn from the experience?

Dillon Salva: I think I overcame adversity going into this season. I pretty much played my whole junior season aside from the first two games with very badly injured hip flexors. It really tampered with my route running, jumping, lateral movement, and ability to block. At times I was almost a liability out there on the field. This whole past preseason and offseason I focused on rehabbing and strengthening them. I was able to get them back to 100% and have a fully healthy great senior season. 

Justin David Kish: How was your chemistry with your team in college?

Dillon Salva: My chemistry with my team couldn’t have been better. I made it a point to be a good example for all my teammates and to have a great relationship with all of them as well. If your team isn’t your family then you aren’t going to be successful in any aspect of football, it’s just not possible. I shared some great memories with them that I’ll never forget. I’m so fortunate and will always be thankful for every single one of my brothers.

Justin David Kish: What were your on-the-field responsibilities?

Dillon Salva: My on the field responsibilities were mainly blocking. The Tight End position in our offense was huge for the success of our run game. If I didn’t successfully do my job on every play then the play wouldn’t work. I was fortunate enough to block for a great friend and even greater player, Derrick Villard. Who will go down as one of the best running backs in program history. That made my job much easier.

Justin David Kish: Outside of football, what does a typical day look like when you have time off?

Dillon Salva: Outside of football a typical day for me at home is spent with family and friends. Up at school, I’m fortunate enough to have the most supportive girlfriend anyone could have. They say every athlete needs a “number one fan” or a “hypeman”. Well after being with her that’s very true haha. She makes sure my grades are in check,  makes sure I’m eating right, makes sure I’m in the gym, makes sure my bodies always good. I’m either working out, studying or spending time with her which is much needed because she wants me to achieve my goal of playing in the NFL as bad as I do because she wants what’s in my best interest.

Justin David Kish: I am going to put you on the spot for the next couple of questions. My first question, if you could compare yourself to any current NFL tight end who would you compare yourself to and why?

Dillon Salva: If I could compare myself to an NFL Tight End I think I’m very similar to Antonio Gates. We have a similar body type measurable wise. We have the basketball background that separates us from most tight ends as well. I can only dream to have half as good of a career as new having.

Justin David Kish: My final question, if I was an NFL GM why should I draft Dillon Salva?

Dillon Salva: I would want a GM to know that I didn’t need to play at a big school to play my heart out every play. That the weights in my D2 facility after just as heavy as the ones in the biggest D1 facilities. Every time I workout I’m going harder than the guy in the SEC who has much less to prove. I’m going to block my hardest whether I’m going against an Undrafted rookie from a D3 school or JJ Watt. I take pride in everything I do and refuse to lose a rep. That with only 3 years of Tight End under my belt I have the most upside and room to grow compared to anyone in this draft class. I love the game of football and I bring a positive energy to practice every single day. And that they’re going to get someone who’s playing for the pride of the name on the back of his jersey, not a paycheck.

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