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Senior Dixon holding onto starting job

As much as any upperclassmen on the team, cornerback Gerald Dixon and his senior running mates had to battle hard to hold off challenges from younger players. <br><br>"Man! We've tried to always have our games up to par," Dixon said. "but these (redshirt) freshmen have been great. They're <I>real</I> good."

Despite strong challenges from redshirt freshmen Anthony Madison and Charlie Peprah, for now Dixon and fellow senior Hirchel Bolden are still starters at corner. "Competition is great," Dixon said. "You can't get better without competition. You can't back up from competition, if you're a competitor. I'm a competitor, and I also know that Hirchel is a competitor."

Given the publicity surrounding Alabama's redshirt freshmen DBs, many fans were surprised when Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione released his depth chart last week, indicating Dixon and Bolden were still first string. Franchione commented, "The competition is very close at that position. (The senior cornerbacks) fought off the challenges, and I admire and respect them for that. Just as I respect those guys just behind that fought so hard to take those positions.

Now in his fourth year as a starter, Gerald Dixon has become a vocal leader of the secondary.

"But experience won out. They deserve to be where they are right now."

As much as any players on the squad, Dixon and Bolden raised their level of play from last season till now. "The young guys have been working hard, and I'm trying to lead them," Dixon said. "I teach them everything I know to get them better. Game-time experience can never be rehearsed. But once they get out there, they are going to do fine.

"They can make plays."

Cornerbacks Coach Chris Thurmond watched during spring and fall as competition worked its magic on his athletes. "The younger kids brought a tremendous source of energy," Thurmond explained. "And the older ones saw that. But it wasn't just all the younger kids either fueling the fire. It was everybody. Anytime you've got competition, then it elevates everybody's performance."

"Our off season was great," Dixon said. "We probably had one of the best off seasons I can remember. We worked seven-on-seven (pass drills) almost every day. We competed with the offense, and competition has made us better. We're coming out here every day, working to improve. We're pushing each other and working hard. The goal for ourselves has been simple: to get better."

For now at least, Dixon and his fellow seniors have fended off the challenge from Bama's younger players.

Thurmond watched with satisfaction as the younger players pushed his veterans to improve. "With our older kids, I don't know whether it was a maturity thing that they just evolved to where they were ready to play better--or whether it was the competition, but our older kids did step up. It was probably a combination."

Besides the addition of several younger players to the mix, the Tide secondary also saw a coaching change from last season. Ron Case retired, and the highly energetic Melvin Smith is now working with the safeties.

Technically Smith and Thurmond coach different groups, but the two cooperate closely in schooling the Tide secondary. "They're working great together," Dixon said. "They're like ying and yang, left and right. They're working real well together."

This spring and fall the enthusiasm level among Bama's DBs has been noticeably higher, but Smith is not the only reason for that. "I placed an emphasis on myself to get us going," Dixon said. "I've been out here for four years. I've seen it all. This is my senior year. I'm having fun and just playing ball."

In previous years Dixon sometimes held back in that regard. But no more.

Anthony Madison

He explained, "My personality is strong. I've always had that. But (prior to this year) we had older guys ahead of me. I had to play with them and (defer) to them, because I was a younger guy. But me and Hirchel and Waine (Bacon), we're all seniors back there. I'm going to lead. You've got to bring the young guys along. I think we've been doing a pretty good job of that."

Dixon was elected by his teammates to serve on the Alabama Leadership Council. "This is my second year," he said. "That's an honor. I might now show that a lot, but that's one of the biggest honors that a player can get. Selecting you as a leader is one of the biggest honors your teammates can give you."

Charlie Peprah

For Dixon, Bolden and Bacon, 2002 will mark their final season of college football. But the senior sees plenty of talent among the redshirt freshman class. "Of course Charlie (Peprah), Anthony (Madison) and Roman (Harper) are competitors," was Dixon's assessment, "which was all brought out in spring ball.

"Roman's just good. He's got range. He can play ball. And he comes out here every day and he works. He's one of the best tacklers I've seen in a long time. He reminds me a lot of Tony Dixon when he tackles.

"Charlie's strong. He comes out and works every day. He plays with effort. He's got those long arms. He reminds me of me, except with more mass.

Roman Harper

"And Anthony's just effort. He gives you effort on every play. He comes to work with a hard hat on every day. You just can't stop him. You can't stop him, because he works so hard."

So far at least, all four returning starters in the Tide secondary have held onto their jobs. However, next season three of the four will graduate, forcing a changing of the guard.

But Dixon isn't worried.

"Those young guys will be fine. I'm going to turn my TV on every Saturday and watch. I know they can play for us."

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