Written by: Jerry Briggs - MySanAntonio.com
Air Alert User Sets Mark at 2009 NFL Combine
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie wide receiver Jarett Dillard didn't know exactly what the neighbors were talking about as they walked past his house in San Antonio on those hot, summer days so many years ago.
But he had a good idea what they might have been saying.
"They were like, 'What is this guy doing?'" Dillard recalled. At the time, Dillard was working on increasing his jumping ability.
On his front porch, he'd stretch, then jump, then repeat the drill over and over.
He was engaging in "Air Alert" conditioning drills.
What exactly was it?
"You're just jumping in place," Dillard said. "It's all you're doing."
Why was he doing it?
Well, at the time he started on the program, he was in eighth grade at Davis Middle School, and he just wanted to get some more playing time on his AAU basketball team.
He wasn't dreaming of glory in the NBA or the NFL.
He just liked the way it made him feel.
Dillard said he found the program in an advertisement on the back of a magazine. Reading the magazine in the barber shop one day, he knew he had to have the program.
Besides, it was only $19.99.
Porter Dillard, the player's father, was skeptical.
"It was an ad mixed in with some of these other ads, like snake oil to make your hair grow faster," Porter Dillard said. "I told Jarett, 'You're wasting your money.'"
But in a little more than a year after Jarett convinced his dad to send in the money, he advanced from jumping to grabbing the bottom of a basketball net to soaring above the rim.
"It wasn't that I grew that much," Dillard said. "I was 5-7 or 5-8, and then I was only about 5-9 the next year, but I was dunking."
Now he's a 5-10, 187-pound receiver, smallish by NFL standards, who is waiting to find out if he will be named as one of the 45 players to suit up for the Jacksonville Jaguars in their regular-season opener Sunday in Indianapolis.
After a shaky start in training camp, Dillard survived the team's last cut on Saturday and made the 53-man roster.
Reportedly on the roster bubble only a few weeks ago, the fifth-round draft pick out of Rice and former Sam Houston High School standout snared a 13-yard touchdown pass in a preseason game at Philadelphia on Aug. 27.
He followed it last Thursday by making another reception for a two-point conversion at home against Washington.
The late surge was a relief for Dillard, whose normally sure hands were in question after some dropped passes at the outset of camp.
"There were some days where I felt really confident in my performance,'' he said. "There were some days I didn't feel as confident ... That's the thing about the NFL - every day is a challenge. Every day, you have to perform."
Dillard has lived that credo for years. As a youth in San Antonio, he did more than just "Air Alert" drills in his quest to go to college and make a name for himself.
He worked lots of odd jobs. Dillard delivered advertising flyers around his neighborhood, splitting $15 per week with his sister. For a while, he bought shoes wholesale, had a friend add custom design, then sold them to acquaintances.
To top that off, he was the No. 1 student in his class at Sam Houston. After his freshman year at Rice, Dillard worked as a valet at La Mansion Del Rio.
"Other than playing NFL football," said Dillard, who graduated from Rice with a degree in political science, "that was my favorite job."
Dillard got a thrill out of meeting people and parking expensive cars during nine- or 10-hour shifts.
"I remember coming home about 2:30 or 3 in the morning," he said. "My dad would wake up, like, 'What are you doing?' I told him I got to go do Air Alert. That was actually the best time to do it because nobody was walking up and down the street, so I wasn't looking stupid."
Looking back, maybe it was pretty smart.
Dillard registered the best vertical jump at the NFL combine last winter with a leap of 42 1/2 inches.
At Rice, he set the major college career record with 60 touchdown receptions, many on twisting, leaping catches.
Here's another alert - Dillard has big plans for the future, hopefully a long and prosperous NFL career.
"I'm just enjoying every minute of it," he said. "I want to be the guy that people back in San Antonio can say, 'Hey, that's Jarett. I knew him when he was just working hard, just trying to get there.'"