Nixon Successful on Both Fronts

Cynical fans will claim that a smart college football player is usually not a very talented one, and vice versa. This season Mike Nixon has dispelled that theory in a major way. Already the leading tackler for the Sun Devils, the junior linebacker was named first team Pacific-10 All-Academic football team and posted the highest GPA of any first team selection.

Mike Nixon carries a 4.05 GPA as a political science major, and also paces the Sun Devils with 81 total tackles, which is good for fifth best in the conference. He also leads the Pac-10 with five interceptions this season, after entering the 2008 campaign with no career picks.

"I obviously take a lot of pride in my classes on and off the field," said Nixon who was also named an ESPN The Magazine ESPN First Team Academic All-District VIII selection for the second straight year. "It's nice to get rewarded like this. It's nice to get it done on and off the field and hopefully I can keep it going one more year."

"I think he's fallen a lot in my footsteps," quipped head coach Dennis Erickson about the academic honor Mike Nixon received. "They only had 4.0 (GPA) when I was (in school). They didn't have any of those 4.05 or I'm sure I would have accomplished that.

"It says a lot about him and that's how he plays. He that kind of a student but he's also a student of the game. Some of the things he knows and does, he's a coach on the field. He makes plays because he knows what's going on in a game plan. It makes a heck of a difference."

In 2007 Nixon was still one the leaders on the ASU defense and ended that year fourth in total tackles with 58. Needless to say that he has elevated his performance significantly this season, but staying true to his humble personality he was quick to deflect the praise he's receiving for his on the field exploits.

"I just have to thank the coaches who gave me an opportunity to play," commented Nixon. "(Defensive Coordinator) Coach Bray has done a great job putting myself and all the linebackers really in position to play as a corps real well.

"A lot of things go unnoticed, especially with the D-Line upfront. They do a lot of the dirty work to help linebackers make plays. At the end of the day you just have to tip the cap to them."

The timing of his honor could not have come at a better time for Nixon. The linebacker is coming off a memorable weekend where scored his first touchdown on an interception (a 45-yard return) this past Friday against UCLA, while he and his teammates tied an NCAA record with four defensive touchdowns scored.

Sure, the ever non-compromising Coach Bray still found many flaws during film session, but overall reviewing the heroics of the ASU defense was easy on the eyes for Nixon and his comrades.

"It was pretty awesome," described Nixon. "You're watching it and we had a couple of bad plays here and there, but you anticipate getting all those scores. I still think about that game a week later – the way the crowd was into it, they were motivating us and I'm excited to play another week."

The Sun Devil defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in the last ten quarters played and with an inconsistent offense is naturally playing a major role in the team's current three-game winning streak. When asked for a reason for this defensive resurgence, which followed a six-game skid, the linebacker was very pragmatic in his reply.

"Looking back at some of the early games every tipped ball is falling in the other's team's hands," said Nixon. "Every chance we had to make a play a guy was spinning out. For whatever reason we found a way to get those breaks and make that luck on our side now. It's obviously a huge difference in the game." This weekend's rivalry contest carries a little more meaning for a player like Nixon, who prepped at Phoenix's Sunnyslope High School and grew up a Sun Devil fan surrounded by many Wildcat supporters. Furthermore, a win against Arizona in Tucson on Saturday assures the maroon and gold a 6-6 record a bowl berth.

After ASU has denied Arizona postseason play the last two years, there's no doubt that the Wildcats are more than happy to return a favor.

"We're fighting for our lives," commented Nixon. "We won three in a row, and have a chance to get a fourth. I'm sure there's revenge on their minds. Two years in a row they got to stay home for the holidays and that's something we don't want to do.

"So we're gonna have to go down there and hopefully win a tough road game. The fans are obviously passionate and they have a dislike for us."

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