Past Experience at QB Helps Nixon at LB

His biography screams of uniqueness. A 22-year old former Los Angeles Dodgers minor league prospect, walks onto ASU and tries to revive what once was a spectacular high school football career. Certainly, Mike Nixon isn't your typical freshman and his knowledge as a prep signal caller may just give him the edge at claiming the starting middle linebacker job.

In 2002, no other high school player in Arizona was more heralded than Mike Nixon. He was rated as the 11th best safety in the nation by and was PrepStar's no. 1 athlete player in the West. He was all set to join Arizona State's Pac-10 foe UCLA, when he decided to pursue a professional baseball career with the Dodgers who drafted him in the third round.

After a few seasons and some soul searching, Nixon was resolved to leave baseball and join the ranks at the ASU football team, who heavily recruited him out of Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix. A strong finish to spring practice earlier this year has helped the linebacker ascend the depth chart at linebacker quite quickly. Was he surprised by everything that has transpired, especially due to the fact that he was originally slated to play safety?

"It's just one of those things," said the 6-2 226 Mike Nixon. "I knew we were thin at linebacker and I wanted to move there earlier in the spring. Hopefully we get Beau (Manutai) back because he does make our team better. We should be pretty solid there."

The position may be somewhat foreign to him, but a former quarterback such as himself, does carry value even on the other side of the ball. "Because I played quarterback, I do have an idea what the offense is trying to do," he explained. "On certain routes, you just have that natural feel as to where the ball is gonna be thrown to. Learning all your reads at quarterback, just translates to playing well on defense because everything is a natural reaction – not a lot of thinking."

It's only fair to look at the middle linebacker spot as one who will deliver more than a few tackles. During a spirited practice on Sunday, the first time this pre-season that the team was allowed to hit each other, Nixon was more than happy to take the physicality of practice to the next level. "It's the first time since spring ball that we were able to pop each other a little bit," he commented. "There's always an extra bounce in your step when you know you can crash heads. I think we came out and responded well the first day."

The linebacker, who faced a mountain to climb in terms of adjustments on and off the field, has benefited from being on campus for over eight months now. "Coming out in the spring helped out a lot," admitted Nixon. "I look at all the freshmen now and they seem overwhelmed. We have meetings all day, special teams drills…being here a while makes it all a review instead of something new you have to get used to."

Even though he's one of the oldest players on the team, the nickname ‘rookie' is still one that Nixon can't shake off. It seems as if his teammates conveniently choose to ignore his age, and lump him together with the five newcomers at his position. "When you see an 18-year old calling you rookie, you just start laughing because something is wrong," he said. "I like all the new linebackers. We hang out, eat together…even though I was already here in the spring, I'm still a freshman like four of them. Down the road we're all hopefully gonna be playing together and get some W's."

The prospects of a baseball career have been tucked away forever. Yet it's still summer, and Nixon acknowledged that it has been weird to spend the season most synonymous with baseball, knocking heads on the gridiron. "I have been watching baseball a little here and there," he remarked. "I do have some former teammates that are now playing in the big leagues. I'm enjoying watching them and cheering them on."

In somewhat of a contrast to the love he's giving his former teammates, Nixon and the rest of the players in his position, have been practically labeled as the Achilles heel of the maroon and gold defense. He doesn't necessarily fire up the proverbial ‘chip on my shoulder' speech, and chooses to deal with this matter in a pragmatic way. "It is what it is," he said. "When you lose two guys like Dale (Robinson) and Jamar (Williams), that's what you expect. We don't have a lot of experience, and because of that people have questions. Now it's time for us to answer them."

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