Season Wrapup: Justin Dixon

North Carolina commitment Justin Dixon might have been listed at middle linebacker on Smithfield-Selma's roster, but the 6-foot-1, 231-pounder was likely to line up anywhere within the front seven on any given Friday night.

"We were going to put him in the best position to make noise," Smithfield-Selma assistant coach Chris Martin said. "Sometimes we had him at outside linebacker, sometimes we had him in the middle – whatever fit the situation.

"Against Chapel Hill, for example, we lined him up across from the big Rob Crisp guy. We felt that Justin would give that guy fits – and he did for the most part.

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"You put Justin on the edge, he's hard to handle. I don't know many tackles that are able to handle him."

Before this season, Dixon had already become accustomed to playing the role of versatile defensive weapon.

"It's just something I've been doing since my freshman year," Dixon said. "Since my freshman year I've played defensive end, defensive tackle, [and] linebacker – wherever I was needed. This year was no different.

"Coming into the season, Coach [Anthony] Barbour said there's not a set position that he can put me out at. He said ‘I'm going to keep moving you around.'"

Offensively, Dixon's production was up-and-down. He ended the year with 767 yards and nine touchdowns on 160 carries. However, half of his ten games he was held under 76 yards (including three games where he rushed for less than 32 yards), while the other half he rushed for over 105. Furthermore, he scored two touchdowns in four games, but was held scoreless in five games.

"A lot of times when we went into a game, whatever way Justin went, they were sending everybody," Martin said. "There were games when Justin went right, all three linebackers went right. A lot of people keyed on Justin."

"Sending the house" didn't always shut Dixon down. If it did, though, it usually opened things up for his backfield mates, fellow UNC commitment D.J. Bunn and junior Josh Snead.

"I knew that coming into every game it was ‘Key on 33, key on Justin,'" Dixon said. "It kind of got to me at first. But then I just accepted it and tried to compensate. Most of the time when I got stopped, D.J. and Josh Snead got the ball."

Not every opponent had to worry about Dixon. Midway through the season, Dixon was suspended from the team.

"It was a family issue taken care of in-house," Martin said. "…He's a kid and kids make mistakes. Sometimes when a kid makes mistakes he has to be called down."

Dixon sat out two of Smithfield-Selma's biggest games – against Raleigh (N.C.) Southeast and Garner (N.C.).

Once news broke of his suspension, Dixon's character came into question.

"If you ever met Justin Dixon on the street, he's going to be a kid that is ‘yes sir,' ‘no sir' to you – he's a very polite kid," Martin said. "Justin isn't a bad character kid. He's like any kid – he makes mistakes."

"That was tough," Dixon said. "I felt like for those two games, I let my team down."

"I saw him cheering harder than anybody in the stands [and] any cheerleader on the sidelines," Martin said.

When he returned to the team, Dixon felt he matured a lot and was rejuvenated.

"As soon as I got back to the team, I got them all together, and I was just like ‘The two games, that's my fault – you can blame those two loses on me. We're going to forget about those two loses and win out for the rest of the season,'" Dixon said.

Smithfield-Selma went on to win its next two games, but dropped its season finale to rival Clayton (N.C.) and first round playoff contest against Apex (N.C.) Middle Creek.

Given his versatility and freak-like combination of size, speed, and strength, Dixon could play any of the three linebacker positions on the collegiate level.

Martin sees Dixon eventually settling in at outside linebacker on the weak-side.

"I can see Carolina putting him possibly at outside linebacker," Martin said. "And then have him drop down onto the line and have him come off the edge."

According to Martin, UNC will bring Dixon in as a middle linebacker. If Dixon is able to academically qualify and enroll this summer, he is looking forward to battling for the open starting middle linebacker position at UNC, created by the graduation of Mark Paschal and Chase Rice.

"It's looking good," Dixon said. "I've got to hunker down. I can come in as a true freshman – I know that without a doubt. All I have to do is go out there and practice hard and play hard. I know I have competition coming in, but I feel like I can come in and really start."

Dixon says he speaks weekly to both Tommy Thigpen and John Shoop.

"They just basically talk to me about finishing the year out strong," Dixon said. "I'm supposed to go up [to Chapel Hill] Friday just to chill with [Thigpen]."

Dixon, who has yet to take his SAT, hasn't scheduled his official visit to UNC. He's looking at any of the last three weekends in January.

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