Could the next football phenom be from Sweden? Kevin Dillman, 16, is a foreign exchange student from Sweden currently attending La Mirada High School in Los Angeles. He’s also one of the most talked-about high school football athletes in the state.
Kevin Dillman stands 6-foot-4, weighs about 210 pounds and he's just 16 years old. Decked out in his La Mirada High School football uniform he stands out on the field.
Off the field, he stands out among his fellow classmates for another reason.
Dillman is a foreign exchange student from Sweden. He moved to La Mirada, California, a sleepy suburb full of tract homes on cul-de-sacs, specifically to play football for the Matadores. It was a plan that took years to realize, but has paid off now that Dillman, a sophomore, is projected to be one of the premiere Division 1 recruits in the class of 2015.
"I always knew I wanted to play football in the U.S., but I didn’t know if it was going to be possible for me to play high school all four years," said Dillman.
The story of how he ended up here goes back a generation. His father, who was born in the U.S. but raised in Sweden, was a foreign exchange student at La Mirada High School more than 30 years ago. He kept in touch with former classmates and brought Kevin out for a visit when he was just 13. That’s when varsity head coach, Mike Moschetti, first got a look at his arm.
"I believe he was in eighth grade," said Moschetti. "We were practicing and he was on the sidelines throwing with his dad, and I remember looking over saying, 'Who’s the 23-year-old standing over there on the sidelines?'"
A year later Dillman enrolled in the high school with a tourist visa, but that expired after only a few months, so he packed up and headed home to southern Sweden.
"We knew Kevin was going to be a highly recruited football player, so we didn’t want him to stay here on an expired visa," said Moschetti. "That would make him an illegal citizen — then the government could make it hard for him down the road."
So Dillman filed more paperwork, lifted weights and waited for seven months before he was granted his American citizenship. Almost immediately he was back in his #10 jersey.
Coach Moschetti put together a highlight reel, and within days there was a flurry of college offers. The first one came from UCLA coach Jim Mora.
"Literally, the next day my phone rang, I answered, it was Coach Mora. He said, 'I just watched that film and wanted to let you know we’re going to offer Kevin a scholarship,'" said Moschetti.
Now, with five games under his belt, there are eight other offers on the table. But Dillman seems nonplussed.
"OK: UCLA, Louisville, Arkansas, Old Miss, Utah, Cal Berkeley, Colorado. I have two more. I don’t know," said Dillman.
Those last two? Florida State and Nebraska. And word is the head coach from the University of Washington came out to see him play last week.
The funny thing is, for all of his talent as a quarterback, that’s not what he’s playing this year. There’s a senior on the team who’s filling the position.
"He’s playing in a lot of different positions. He’s playing free safety, wide receiver, defensive end," said Jim Phillips, the team's social media director.
As we speak on the sidelines, Phillips sits tweeting during a game against Bishop Amat two weeks ago.
At this point, La Mirada is down by 14 points and Phillips is waiting for Dillman to do something “impressive," like what he did in the first game of the season against St. Paul High School.
"The very first play, kickoff, the play of the season for us, he returned the kickoff 97 yards for the touchdown," said Phillips.
The father of another boy out on the field leans over and says, “When God made quarterbacks, he thought of Kevin.”
Still, the team isn’t able to build up enough momentum for a win. It’s their only loss so far.
Home Away From Home
Nancy Meyers is the fill-in mom in Dillman’s new life in the states. It’s Meyers, her husband Kenny and their kids — all diehard Green Bay Packers and Notre Dame fans — who’ve taken in the teenager who moved here on his own.
Meyers said her husband had worked it all out with Coach Moschetti and somehow forgot to mention it to her — until she ran into a friend.
"Well, it’s kind of a funny story, because no one ever told me," said Meyers. "I kept picturing a big Swede, like a big lineman type of guy, and when I answered the door it was Kevin. I was like, 'Oh, my gosh!' I go, 'You need to be a model.'"
Nancy and Kenny, who coaches the freshman team at La Mirada, said Dillman is an easy and extremely focused kid, who happens to plow through boxes and boxes of cereal. He has a 3.8 GPA and keeps his room relatively clean, which is the only condition his mom posed to let him move to another continent.
Dillman texts his parents at the beginning and end of every day, and his dad follows all of his games in real time on Twitter. Meyers said Dillman is usually so poised that it’s easy to overlook how intimidating it is to be in the spotlight.
She recently told him: "'You have to learn to give interviews,' and then he said, 'but I’m only 15,'" said Meyers. "I think a lot of times, we all forget that. He’s just a boy, away from his family and having to rise up to the occasion."
The day I showed up for a practice, Nick Kramer was there to shoot an interview with Dillman for a Swedish news website. Kramer said it’s possible Dillman could be a gateway athlete for American football in Sweden.
"There’s been a couple of television stations is Sweden that have done a thing on, you know, he might be the next Peyton Manning," said Kramer. "It’s a big deal 'cause it’s a small sport getting bigger, and he is a potential big star in a big position. Like being the Reynaldo of soccer… if you make it."
The other boys on the team seem unfazed by the crew and the attention that’s been thrown on Dillman. Yes, they’ve read the "Sports Illustrated" profile. Yes, they know about the multiple offers. No, they have no idea what public radio is.
Nobody is jealous, said Tristan Tristao.
"We have a lot of good players, so they’re not even coming for Kevin," said Tristao. "They’re coming to look at a lot of the players, and while they’re looking at those players, they see even other players that they’re interested in, so it kind of works out for the whole team."
In fact, Coach Moschetti said about six players on the team have offers from Division 1 schools. Tyler Luatua, a junior, has already racked up 19 football scholarship offers.
Dillman said being around such great players is what drives him. Still, he’s not one to brag.
"Well I would see it as… I have potential," said Dillman.
He said he doesn’t really have a favorite school yet, but wherever he goes, he hopes it’ll lead to the NFL — with regular visits to Sweden.