On the surface, A.J. Dillon’s 2018 season looks pretty impressive.

He was the 2018 ACC preseason player of the year and a first team All-ACC selection. He also became the first player in Boston College history to run for at least 1,000 yards in each of his initial two seasons.

So why did it feel so hollow for him?

Because it could have been so much more.

The Eagles are eager to see what 6-foot, 250-pound running back can do now that he’s back to full health, having fought through a severe high ankle spring that dogged him most of last season.

“He is set to have one heck of a year,” BC coach Steve Addazio said recently at the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte, North Carolina. “He had over 1,000 yards last year, but he could have over 2,000 yards this year.”

Dillon tweaked his ankle in a Week 4 loss at Purdue, then suffered the severe high ankle sprain the following week against Temple.

He missed only two games, but he was never at full strength again until the Cotton Bowl, which was canceled by inclement weather after the game began.

“There were a lot of games I had to leave early,” Dillon said. “I couldn’t go any more physically. I’m pretty sure I left Virginia Tech [on Nov. 3] early, couldn’t go anymore. A bunch of games I had to leave early or take little spurts of time off. It was frustrating.”

Dillon still finished the year with 1,108 yards in 10 games. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry (down from 5.3 as a freshman) and scored 10 rushing touchdowns.

“He was really half the player he was before,” Addazio said, adding that Dillon is probably among the strongest athletes on his team at any position.

“He’s healthy now. He’s in the best physical condition and really improved himself in the passing game and protection and catching the ball out of the backfield.”

Dillon prefers not to play the what-if game — the Eagles suffered a pair of one-possession losses when he was hobbled — but he’s confident he could have been a more valuable asset if healthy.

He was bothered by rumblings from fans and media who didn’t understand the extent of his injury.

“A lot of my game is based off of being explosive — making that one cut and just driving, being able to get to my top speed,” he said. “With that injury, especially playing running back, it’s hard to make those cuts, those adjustments. ... Dealing with that criticism, it was tough for me. I was excited to kind of showcase myself being back at full health.”

His first opportunity comes against the Hokies, who visit Chestnut Hill on Aug. 31. Vegas has offered 75-to-1 odds on Dillon to win the Heisman Trophy.

“I want to be the best,” Dillon said. “That’s always been my driving factor. Not in an egotistical way; I just expect nothing but the best out of myself. So I want to be the best running back in college football. “

Aaron McFarling joined The Roanoke Times in 2000 and has been writing sports columns since 2004.

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