Mixed Emotions for Linebacker

Mike Nixon wasn't able to enjoy his career day. His 12 tackles took place in the Oregon loss, and jubilation was far from his mind. This weekend the Sun Devils play the team he originally committed to, UCLA, at a football stadium located in the vicinity of the baseball ballpark he dreamed of playing in – Dodgers Stadium. But for Nixon there are no regrets over the past, just focus on the present.

Mike Nixon, who out of Phoenix Sunnyslope high school played for over three years in the Los Angeles Dodgers' minor league system, still follows the team. He was happy for their recent hire of future Hall of fame manager Joe Torre and called it "a big move…he can gel the young ad old players there."

This week though it's all about the sport that ultimately became his favorite – football. Saturday's contest will surely be a stroll down memory lane as Nixon visits the Rose Bowl – a stadium that prior to his baseball commitment was supposed to be his home field on Saturdays, for the first time as a Sun Devil.

"It's still special," said the linebacker on playing the Bruins this week. "They were the team I was planning on playing for the next four, five years of my life. Obviously things took a turn, but everything is great now. Hopefully we can take care of business and get some payback, because they beat us here last year."

Indeed, the sophomore should be happy of where he's at right now. A one-time star quarterback made the successful conversion last season to safety and thereafter to linebacker. His career day in Eugene helped him eclipse his freshman season tackle total of 32. Through nine games this season he has collected 40 tackles, and his head coach called him "a pleasant surprise." Not too shabby for a 24-year old sophomore walk-on.

"Anytime you can play well against a great team it does something to your confidence," Nixon explained. "It gives you the confidence that you can match up against anybody. Going back and looking at film – you have to be your own worst critic. You see the things you did wrong and unfortunately when you lose those are the things that stick in your mind a little more."

In Tuesday's practice, after starting two consecutive games at the MIKE position, Nixon was shifted to the SAM position and now is ironically playing alongside the one-time starter he unseated at MIKE Morris Wooten. While this move was made because of the new depth order at linebacker (triggered by the full recovery of Gerald Munns from injury), it also speaks to the versatility of Nixon.

"I got a couple of starts last year," Nixon recalled. "This year they brought in Wooten and he's such a great athlete and I knew if I did my job and played well coaches would notice me. If you do things right it's hard to keep you off the field…It's a little hard to rotate between both positions, but coaches did a great job preparing me in the spring for this. They moved us all around then, so now when one of us has to make the change it's that much easier."

At the MIKE role Nixon had to play more downhill trying to block the inside run. "At SAM you're hog-tied with the tight ends," he explained. "You're holding leverage. Maybe you don't make as many tackles, but you're making plays by forcing the runner to the MIKE linebacker and the rest of the defense."

ASU's next opponent, UCLA, has truly been an enigma. Their results show extreme high and lows in play, which jumps out immediately to the sophomore when he and the team started preparing for the Bruins. "They're a dangerous team," Nixon admitted. "You see one film where they're not playing very well, and then they go out another time and beat Cal…any team that can do that definitely makes you keep your eyes open. They have a new quarterback and that's one thing we don't even know what to expect from their offense. He's a wide receiver so we expect a lot of running, and we have to prepare for a little of everything."

One thing the defense hopes not to prepare for and hopefully eliminate, is the slow start to the game. Granted, the offense does its share in this trend, but it's one that Nixon yearns to never be a part of. "If any of us had the answer…it's like the one million dollar question, why do we continue to dig ourselves a hole?" said Nixon. "This week is as good as any to change it. We need to go out, maybe get a turnover early, a quick score so we can run away with it. So far we just put the pressure on us and manage to come out of it and win. I guess we're giving the fans their money's worth (smile)."

The proverbial ‘business as usual' approach through out what has so far been a remarkable season, has helped the Sun Devils stay even keel during their eight consecutive wins. Nixon stated that this approach is coming in handy now that the team has to deal with their first defeat of the season. "We know we have to come out and handle business," he remarked. "We still put ourselves in position after eight games to really make this a real good year. We can't lose sight of that."
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