SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- In Union Catholic's latest installment of Feature Friday, the spotlight shine on UC junior Jahi Dillard.
Dillard, who lives in Plainfield, is a starter on the varsity soccer team, a member of the National Honor Society, an Honor Roll student, and is very active in the UC Community.
Here is a Q and A with Dillard-
Your team is playing Notre Dame this Wednesday in the NJSIAA Sectional soccer tournament. How excited are you for the tournament?
"I'm extremely excited for next week's state sectional soccer tournament. I'm always ready to play and I'm certain that the team is as well. I think that if we're able to stay composed and play together as a team, we will definitely be able to make some noise in the tournament. However, we have to focus on this first game, and make sure that we play our game as well.''
What do you think of the season your team is having? After a tough start you guys reeled off several big wins.
"I honestly think that we've overall had a great season. We started out with a few bumps here and there, but quickly turned it around and got ourselves a few important wins that helped boost our confidence. I think that once we ironed out those bumps, we definitely became a team to fear within the conference.''
You've had a great season with a couple goals and an assist, and have played strong in every game. How would you describe the season you've had?
"Honestly, even with the great season that I've had, I still think that I could've done better. I've made a lot of mistakes throughout the season where I could've had a few more goals or assists, but I still do think that I've had a good season. I try to put everything I have out on the pitch, and many times, it has brought good results for me and the team. Now with our state game coming up, I just have to continue to work as hard as I can to bring the best results for the team.
How would you describe your style of play? What are your biggest strengths as a player?
"I think that my style of play is a very pass-first oriented style of play. There had never really been a time in my soccer career where I was a true goal scorer, but I've always done a good job of being able to find others who are open. My biggest strength is my speed. I have a good amount of skill, but what most people see on the field when I have the ball and open space in front of me is my speed. I've always had a quicker step than most on the soccer field, and I haven't seen many defenders throughout the season that have been able to match my speed.''
When did you start playing soccer and how did you get involved in soccer to begin with?
"I started playing organized soccer at the beginning of fifth grade. I got involved through a soccer camp I went to at Metuchen Sportsplex (fun fact: this camp is where I met Joe Sebastian, our varsity starting keeper). I seemed to be pretty good to most of the kids there with me, and they started calling me "Neymar". At this camp, I met two brothers, who I became friends with and introduced to my dad, who found out that they played for a club team in South Plainfield. Once they talked about it, my dad got me to try out for South Plainfield and that was where I began my soccer journey.''
What do you love the most about playing soccer at UC?
"The thing I love most about playing soccer at Union Catholic is playing with my teammates. They are like my brothers, and I definitely enjoy playing with them. I also enjoy getting a good laugh when my teammates are making jokes, especially as they joke a lot! Overall, though, I definitely enjoy the brotherhood that I've joined being able to play on this varsity soccer team here at UC.''
What does UC head soccer coach Tim Breza think of Dillard?
"Jahi is an exemplary young man,'' said Breza. "His work ethic and determination are second to none. "He is never afraid to push himself that little bit extra which in turn makes the people around him work that much harder. This tenacity not only shows on the soccer field but in the classroom as well. It is one of the great pleasures of being a coach and a teacher to see one of your players utilize their work ethic in all facets of life. It has been an honor to coach Jahi and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for such a special young man.''
Jahi, you are such a well rounded student at UC between sports and academics etc. Can you list everything you are involved in at UC other than soccer?
"Along with being a part of Union Catholic's varsity soccer team, I am also a part of the Music Club, and I will also be taking part in the Christmas concert this year, as well as being a student that is a part of the Distinguished Honors program here at UC.''
Can you explain how the balance between sports and academics has helped you become a better student, and how important it is to be involved in different things?
"The balance between sports and academics has definitely taught me that it is important to manage your time. No matter what you do for the school outside of the classroom, the most fundamental part of a student coming to Union Catholic is to be a student. I am still working on this part! It's always important to be a student first, as then it will give you the opportunity to become active in other areas of the Union Catholic community.''
Awards/honors you have received at UC?
"At Union Catholic, along with being originally admitted into the Distinguished Honors program here, I've also been an Honor Roll student at UC for almost every marking period that I've been in the school so far. I have also just recently been named one of the inductees for the National Honor Society for Union Catholic's Class of 2022. I also became a first-year varsity athlete last fall, and I am coming up on the end of my second season as a varsity athlete.
What does it mean to you to have achieved so much success? Must be very satisfying and exciting to see all your hard work pay off.
"It honestly means a lot to have achieved that level of success, and I'm definitely seeing all of the work that I put into my athletics and my studies pay off. However, I can't just stop here, and I plan to continue working to become even better as a part of the Union Catholic community, whether it is on the field as an athlete, or in the classroom as a student.''
What did you love the most about being a student at Union Catholic?
"The thing I love most about being a student at Union Catholic is the welcoming environment that it brings to the student. Everyone here is very welcoming, and you are definitely able to create some strong bonds here at UC that you may continue to have for a very long time. The teachers are also very welcoming and helpful. Many teachers will always be open to answer questions and help students in the classroom. I love the overall spirit of UC, which is the fact that we are able to accept so many different people from so many different backgrounds when we enter the doors of Union Catholic.''
What was it about UC that made you want to be a student here?
"To be honest, I loved the feeling of family that I got from being at Union Catholic. As soon as I walked through the doors I just felt this feeling of a home, and everyone in it and in the community is a part of a family here. It was a feeling that seemed almost inimitable anywhere else. It felt like a home, and for that reason I wanted to call it home.''
What kind advice would you give to younger students who are considering attending UC?
"I think that one thing younger students who are considering attending Union Catholic in the future should know is that we are all family here at Union Catholic, regardless of race, religion, or anything. I don't know anywhere at UC where it's hard for people to fit in or make friends because there is always a way for students to get involved and there are always students who come to new students with open and welcoming arms. I feel like that "family" experience is something that students won't be able to get from anywhere else.''
What specifically can you point to as the things that you've benefited from the most from your experience as a student at UC?
"I definitely think that the flexibility of Union Catholic and its teachers have been the most beneficial to me. It's easy for me at times to get caught up with soccer and school, but when I do, the teachers are always lenient and willing to help me. With this help I am able to get right back on track as a student and then continue in my athletics.''
I know you are a junior, but have you thought about your plans for the future? What type of career you'd like to pursue and if you plan to play soccer in college?
"I've definitely thought about my plans for the future, and right now, I would like to become a soccer player overseas. I do plan to continue playing soccer through college as well. However, I've started to make beats for artists to use, and I enjoy doing it. In the future, I've also thought about the idea of becoming a producer for artists if the soccer plan does not work out.''
Favorite class and teacher at UC? Algebra II, Mr. Guzman
Favorite UC Moment: "My favorite UC moment was definitely the annual Six Flags trip, as I was able to get on many rides and spend a lot of quality time there with my friends. It helped me build some closer bonds with some of my friends here at UC.''
Favorite UC Event: "My favorite UC event was probably the pep rally, as I always enjoyed getting a few laughs with my friends during it.''
Favorite UC soccer moment: Playing in the state game last year after coming off from an injury that cost me most of the season.''
Favorite position to play on the soccer pitch? Left wing
Favorite UC Core Value:
My favorite UC Core Value is Community because I feel like if you can't find anything else here for some reason, Union Catholic will always be a sign of community. Everyone here, whether it is the teachers, other fellow students, or even just our principal Sister Percylee, there will always be someone in this community at Union Catholic ready and willing to support you through your journey here.''
Life Motto: Give 110 percent through everything.
One word to describe your UC experience: Sensational
Share one tip for members of the Class of 2024:
"One tip that I would give to the members of the Class of 2024 is to make sure that you learn to manage your time well.