LINCOLN — Carl Pelini couldn’t say enough about Phillip Dillard.
“I love Phil,” the Nebraska defensive coordinator said Saturday night after the Huskers’ 10-3 win over Oklahoma. “Phil is a success story that I’ll talk to my players about for 20 years. You get beat out and you’re not No. 1 on the depth chart, never give up. Just keep battling. He’s having a heck of a season.”
That’s what happened to Dillard. The coaches weren’t happy with him last spring and over the off season, so he got pushed way, way down on the depth chart.
Dillard just kept working. That work has paid off.
He moved back into the starting lineup for the Virginia Tech game on Sept. 19 and has been there ever since. It doesn’t look like he’s going to be giving up that spot any time soon.
“Phil Dill, starting Will,” his teammates were chanting at a practice earlier this fall. Dillard couldn’t help but smile when he told that story.
He was also smiling as the senior from Tulsa, Okla., talked about beating the No. 1 university from his home state.
“It feels great,” Dillard said. “We went out there and the whole team played with a lot of passion on both sides, offense, defense and special teams. My little brother was over there (on Oklahoma) watching so I had to show him who is boss.
“It was fun. I didn’t get to play last year, so I had a lot of anger built up and I didn’t get to help the team last year. My teammates played a heck of a game.”
Dillard played a heck of a game too. He finished with eight tackles including two for 18 yards in losses. He also picked off a pass that was tipped by Jared Crick.
Dillard said he just had to hang in and persevere through the tough times.
“I’ve been watching film,” Dillard said. “The coaches believed in me and stayed on my side. They gave me a lot of faith and hope. I watched extra film, did extra sprints, anything I could to help the team.
“That’s all it was. It’s up to me to do my part.”
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who doesn’t often gush about players, did just that while talking about Dillard.
“I’m proud of Phil,” Pelini said. “He’s played well the last few weeks. Let me tell you, he was man-to-man on those backs a lot of the time and those backs are special. He played like he’s been playing.
“I can’t say enough about him. He went through some tough times last year and he’s persevered and showed he’s a pretty strong human being. He has overcome a lot and I’m proud of how he’s come through.”
For Dillard, who is one of the most popular players for the Huskers, it’s all believing in the team. He said that belief helped the Huskers pull through against the Sooners.
“It just shows the character of this defense and everyone believes in the system and the coaches and believes in each other,” Dillard said. “It’s not like a team, it’s like brotherhood, we’ve got each other’s back on offense and defense. Both played well, so did special teams with field position. The D-Line played amazing getting blocks. The D-backs were tough and it all tied in together.”