Imagine this Ohio State team without wide receiver Johnnie Dixon on the roster, because it almost happened.
Prior to this year, Dixon’s career has been one defined by injuries. Chronic arthritis in his knees kept him from playing a full season in any of his first three years as a Buckeye, limiting him to just 13 games total in that span.
That’s three years of terribly hard work, met with three consecutive years of having his season shut down much too early.
That can wear on a player, and it absolutely wore on Dixon. After the Clemson loss last year, he was on the verge of giving up the game — and maybe had even already made the decision to walk away.
Buoyed and encouraged by his wide receiver teammates — particularly best friend Parris Campbell, Dixon decided that he couldn’t leave just yet.
Spring was met with cautiously optimistic reports to the media from coaches. Dixon was running well and pain free. They still watched him closely, however.
Then came fall camp. The same explosion was seen every day. Dixon was a new man, and finally he was once again part of the Buckeyes’ plans.
Dixon is currently tied for seventh on the team in receptions (17), but that doesn’t begin to adequately describe his impact on this Ohio State offense. His 413 yards receiving are just 46 yards shy of the team lead, and his 24.3 yards per reception and eight touchdown catches actually lead the Big Ten.
And he almost walked away.
“Johnnie’s a great feel-good story because he just persevered,” Urban Meyer said. “It was awful. Unless you’ve walked in that man’s shoes, to have all this hype coming out of high school and just not be able to perform, and then you start feeling sorry for yourself, etc. So, it’s a great storyline. No one ever gave up on him and he never gave up on himself. It’s hard.”
Dixon has dealt with knee problems since high school.
“It was actually my 10th grade year, in the summer of seven-on-seven I got pulled down on a nasty little incident playing seven-on-seven in Florida. So yeah, it all started there,” Dixon said.
Ever since that tackle, Dixon’s knees bothered him, and it was obvious that in his first few years as a Buckeye his knees wouldn’t allow him to become the player he is today.
That is until finally, something changed.
“One of my high school coaches said that one day I was gonna wake up and I was gonna feel completely fine,” Dixon said. “I thought that was a joke, thought it was never gonna happen, but one day I woke up and I felt good.
“It’s part of the rehab as well, I mean I work really hard on it. In the offseason, my rehab and things of that nature. God blessed me to be here, the guys are playing for everybody and I think that this is my plan.”
Aside from his near-miraculous recovery, his best performance as a Buckeye was in the come-from-behind win against Penn State a few weeks back. Dixon caught three passes for 56 yards, but two of those were fourth-quarter touchdowns.
After that game, Dixon expressed his happiness with his decision to come back.
“Yeah, I actually said to Parris after the game, it was kind of an emotional moment. I almost quit,” he said. “I just couldn’t imagine not being here right now, for a game like that.”
Dixon’s example of perseverance will be one that lasts well after he finally leaves Ohio State. And for the first time in years, there is a scenario where he will leave OSU on his own terms.
His production has been valuable, but his precedent won’t soon be forgotten.
“The guy has made up some dynamic plays,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. “It’s nice to make those dynamic plays, those big plays. It brings some energy to the offense. Good on the field, some good positive vibe, and it’s nice because he has battled through some tough times.
“Now you see guys, he went through tough times but is now having a good time, I think he’s a good inspiration for a lot of other players.”