Nixon Fighting for a Starting Role

After starting the final five games of the 2009 season at left tackle, Xavier Nixon looked like a lock to start this fall. His insertion to the lineup last year allowed Carl Johnson to slide inside to left guard, which gave the offense a shot in the arm. Heading into fall camp, his starting spot is now in jeopardy.

Matt Patchan is healthy after tearing his ACL and will provide a competition for the starting spot.

Instead of allowing the competition to depress him, it has pushed Xavier Nixon. He tasted what it's like to start last season, and he doesn't want to give it up now.

That first start came on the road at South Carolina. He didn't tell his mother before the game, only for her to be in shock as he took the field on the first play of the game. The experience of playing in the pressure-packed games that came down the stretch of the season will give Nixon a leg up heading into the fall battle.

"It was an awakening experience, one that will help me out this year when I get on the field," Nixon said. "It makes things slow down a little bit when you know what the competition is like."

The feeling of starting in Columbia and the rest of the year is a feeling Nixon compares to being "on top of the world." Now his focus turns to having the caliber of camp that will allow him to experience the feeling again this fall. That started in the summer.

He reported to Gainesville last year during the second half of summer, so he wasn't able to experience the entire offseason with the team. He spent this whole summer in Gainesville, and when combined with spring practices, Nixon experienced an offseason that added weight and allowed him to become more accustomed to the Florida program.

"It was a big summer for me," Nixon said. "It was my first summer here at Florida, so I just wanted to work hard. It paid off."

Nixon will play around 295 pounds after fluctuating between 280-290 pounds last season. The summer didn't allow him to spend much time with his family, but it was a sacrifice Nixon was willing to make to improve his status for this fall.

"I figured it was going to be the hardest summer in my life as far as training," Nixon said. "It pretty much was. It was fun though, being here for the summer."

The weight gain came from time spent with the strength and conditioning staff. Nixon closely monitored the foods he ate, and it didn't take him long to start seeing the benefits.

"You've got to eat right and eat a lot during the day," Nixon said. "You've got to work out hard to get your muscles right."

The second season on campus also will allow Nixon to be more productive on the practice field. He has a feel for the pace and activities the Gators use during practice, which will make him more comfortable and able to focus on improvement.

"Practice is much easier now," Nixon said. "I'm used to the heat and things are slower. This is much easier. I know the whole flow of the football season."

The competition between Nixon and Patchan has the two players splitting reps with the first team early in camp. Nixon said Patchan is "close to 100 percent" now after knee surgery and is moving well.

"It's a good thing to have competitiveness throughout camp," Nixon said. "It gets the line fired up, and the whole team fired up."

The two are close friends whether off the field or on it. They encourage each other between plays, despite knowing that one of the two will be standing on the sidelines when the season starts.

"There's no animosity on the field," Nixon said. "It's all love, coming into the locker room and seeing him on campus. I really don't feel any weight towards him. It's just the competitive nature of the game."
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