"Yeah, I added a little bit of beard to it. My Momma was kind of surprised, everybody was surprised. But I told them if you go through what I've been through this season you learn a little something, and you grow up a little bit."
Whoa, there…grow up? The perpetual boyish Bulldog beloved as ‘Boobie'? Well, yes, he says. "You don't have no choice but grow up in the NFL level, it's work you know! Eleven, twelve hour days will make you grow up." But then again, this is A.D. and, well, maturity is such a relative term, you know? So let's just say that Dixon is having a more grown-up type of fun these days.
Besides, he grins again, "I'm still a work in progress!"
True enough. Yet pro progress has come fairly fast for Dixon already after a solid rookie season in San Francisco. He played in all 16 games and finished as the third-leading rusher with 237 yards on 70 carries and a pair of touchdowns. So what if 237 yards was a typical two weeks of work as a Mississippi State senior in 2009? Or one week, such as his memorable 252-yard output at Kentucky?
This really is, as they say, a whole different level of the game. One which Dixon has earned a place in.
"For my first year I think I did some good things. You know, I definitely did some bad things, but it was still a learning experience because it was a different phase for me. And a lot of things were just different. The terminology they use, the style of play they use, the different arenas. So it was still a learning curve, but I think I did good. My coach said I grew a lot over the year, he said towards the end I started really showing them what I could do. So I'm just going to take that and run with it."
No punt intended, of course, though with Boobie one never really knows. It wasn't merely fans who adored A.D., he was a four-year media favorite for his unguarded, and often unlimited, commentary on, oh, almost anything. Not braggadocio, understand…just a Mississippi kid having a wonderful time in the games of both football and life.
And of course you know he still is. One year in the big league hasn't turned this fun-loving Dog into a grumpy old hound.
"My teammates know I'm a high-energy guy," he says. "From what I hear from them, they love me! So I feel the same way about them." Well, sure, but would they say otherwise? "Yeah, they probably wouldn't!"
Seems safe to suggest 49ers folk have fond feelings for their sixth-round draft selection out of Mississippi State. That holds true even as San Francisco make a coaching transition, from Mike Singletary to Jim Harbaugh. Any such change brings natural nerves to most of the youngest, or oldest, members of a NFL roster. Based on initial impressions though Dixon is comfortably confident he has a place in Harbaugh's plans.
"We aren't talking now," he says, due of course to the ongoing labor/management issues. "But I stayed after the season and kept working out and eventually he met me. So we got off to a good start, he saw me putting in extra work." A practice Dixon put in place as a collegian, by the way, so it wasn't as if he was showing off for new management. As to the good start…
"Coach Harbaugh told me he's going to rely on me more this year, point-blank, so when we get back and get together I'm going to need you to be on your game. Ever since that day I've been ready and waiting." And working, too, no matter what his current size (Dixon was amusingly listed at 233 pounds by the 49ers last fall) seems. And anyway, "Coach talked about I'm going to do some fullback too. So I'm definitely trying to bulk-up more. I really want to be versatile you know."
Dixon's duties as a Dog 2006-09 were a bit more simple: run and score. Which he did so well as to compile more career records than any before him. He is first with 3,994 rushing yards, 910 carries, 17 100-yard games, 42 rushing touchdowns, 46 total touchdowns, and 276 points. Dixon did lose his season touchdowns after just one year, as successor Vick Ballard got into the end zone last fall 20 times. Still those four-year standards Dixon wrote will surely stand a long, long time.
Now should Dixon keep gaining ground with the new 49ers regime he can look forward to a nice long career. Interestingly though, for such a naturally-confident kid, he admits conflicting emotions about earning his place with the pros. On one hand, "I knew I could compete from day-one. That was my point to prove when I got there in pre-season. I knew I could play with those guys and I just wanted to prove that."
On the other paw… "My proudest point of the season was probably after the cut-day, when I made the team."
Give Boobie credit for understanding the odds against any running back cracking any NFL roster, because there are a whole lot of capable ground-pounders out there. Still signs were good all camp as he tallied 74 total totes in just four pre-season games and scored four times. Oh, and without a single fumble. In fact Dixon went 16 real games without putting ball on ground until tackled. Safe to say he rewarded the franchise for their faith.
"It was a learning experience, but definitely a good season. They loved my energy all year. I had some ups and downs but they said that's expected. I played special teams and they said I became one of their best specials teams players. So I felt I made some improvement." Well, yeah, considering Dixon didn't see duty on kicking plays at State. Not only did he handle such responsibility in the League, he even blocked a punt. "And I was surprised at that!"
None back in Mississippi were all that surprised at the news, really, since Dixon is just an old-fashioned football player at heart. Give him a job and A.D. will do it, somehow. And, have a good time in the process…though he confesses a full four-month first season can become a grind. His second-proudest moment of 2010?
"After game 16 when I finished the season. All the rookies don't finish the season, you know. And I was definitely banged-up. I kind of felt a certain sense of pride when I finished the last game, when I made it."
Typical Boobie, not to call his first professional points the proudest moment. "One play? Yeah, it has to be the first touchdown. That's a dream-come-true, you know." All the more so as it came on his first real, recorded rush; a two-yard dive against New Orleans the second week of the season. "You can't draw it up any better than that. I was ready, but when it happened I didn't realize what was about to happen. I didn't know it was going to be first carry, first touchdown. But you just run in the game and do your job."
His other 2010 touchdown came against Arizona. Whether Dixon has more chances to go for the goal line in '11 depends first on the season ever starting. For now he will prepare as if all were well in the NFL's world, keep in pro condition and maybe—maybe—lose just a couple of those aforementioned pounds. It might not be easy as long as he's here back home, of course. Give the guy points for fitting in nicely out there in very foreign turf…though he does say, "Both of them got advantages. California has great weather out there, everybody knows that story. Good-looking girls, you know that story!
"Mississippi is home and ain't no place like home to me. The food is better here, and I'm more at home here among my people. The country people. When I go out there to the city everybody is telling me I'm country." What's that, the Bay Area residents don't appreciate that Terry really is a city, at least by Mississippi standards? "That's what I tell them, but they ain't hearing it."
It's worth wondering if his present employers are hearing Dixon's unsolicited advice on the draft. "I tell them we need to get some more Bulldogs with me, Coach!" Meanwhile today's Dogs have been able to hear from this new alumnus, who has something worth saying to current collegians who hope to follow his career track.
"I tell them to just be able to do the little things right. Because everybody is talented. You've got to do the little things right to beat the next man out in the end. So I'd tell them to make sure they know the playbook, and make sure they do things right. And be on time!
"You don't have to be the fastest, or the quickest, or the strongest. A lot of dudes up there will tell you man, I'm here just because I work."
Anthony Dixon will indeed work. And, of course, find a way to enjoy it all. "Oh yeah, oh yeah, definitely! You can't be all work and no play at all, you've got to have a little fun with it. But at the same time you've got to be on-point. Your job is on the line every day, and they let you know."