Buckeyes Confident Freshman Johnnie Dixon Will Contribute Immediately
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Making a significant contribution as a freshman is something that most college football players expect to do, but few ever actually do it.
It doesn't matter how many stars were attached to a recruit's name, because once he arrives on campus, just like in the morning sky -- when the lights go on, those stars disappear.
Reputation and regard begin anew, and that process of building those aspects back up starts as soon as a freshman arrives on campus. How they comport themselves, how they perform, how hard they work, these are all facets of a successful first year for a player.
For freshman receiver Johnnie Dixon, each of these qualities were noticed by his coaches throughout the spring.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"He's been impressive because he's a guy a lot like Dontre [Wilson]," receivers coach Zach Smith explained.
"He's a grown man for an 18-year old. He comes in and handles his business. He handles his business outside of this facility. He handles his business in the classroom. I'm excited about where he's gonna be. Now he's a typical freshman that's still learning and trying to figure everything out, but he has the commitment to be great and he's doing everything that we ask him to do right now. That's usually a formula for success."
Dixon was taking care of his business even before he arrived in Columbus, as he graduated early so that he could enroll in college early and participate in spring football.
That early participation saw Dixon taking significant reps with the second team, and even some with the ones. He still has a ways to go with his consistency, but you can see the type of player that he can become. He is strong, he snatches the football, and he already has an awareness about him that comes in handy around the sideline.
He will be a much better player in October than he will in August, and he'll be even better than that as a sophomore. This is a process, but Dixon has shown plenty of flashes of what is to come. As much as the coaches may preach patience, they know that they need an improvement at the receiver position, and Dixon is one possible way that they can get it.
It's not just the coaches who feel that way, however.
"Johnnie, for sure," quarterback Braxton Miller said of the freshmen who have caught his eye.
"He works hard, he's a hard worker. He's there on time. He's one of those freshmen that I feel like he's going to do outstanding things his first three years and then maybe make that decision at the end. It's going to be tough for him. He's just got to improve and work on the little things and he'll be fine."
Miller had similar words for freshman Dontre Wilson a season ago, saying on one occasion in the preseason that Wilson should be a starter. Unfortunately for Wilson and the Buckeyes, he was still learning the wide receiver position, so he wasn't able to handle the load quite as much as was hoped.
With the same kind of expectations for Dixon, the good news for the Buckeyes is that he is an experienced receiver, and isn't just now learning to play the position after spending his entire life at running back.
But that still doesn't answer the question of whether or not it's too much to ask of a freshman like Dixon to make a significant impact for his team.
"It's not impossible," Smith said.
"It's just a matter of are they mentally ready to give that 4-6 second effort every single play, every single day in practice. That's the only way to get to the level of performance that we're looking for out of our wideouts.
"So if you don't do that as a freshman – you have an immature mind or you don't respond to coaching properly – then you may not get ready. But if you have the mentality to go as hard as you can every single play in practice, you're gonna take the steps to get on the field like you should."
Given what the coaches saw from Dixon this spring, the mentality appears to be where they want it, which very well could put the freshman receiver exactly where he and everyone else wants him to be -- on the field and contributing each time out.
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