Torn but Not Tattered

He played at less than 100 percent his final two years of high school, and while he's been patched up by the Wisconsin medical staff, true freshman linebacker D'Cota Dixon is showing that he can be an impact player with only one healthy shoulder.

MADISON - D’Cota Dixon knows he needs surgery.

For the past two years, the 5-10, 206-pound Dixon has played with a tear in his labrum in his right shoulder, suffering the injury in the final game of his sophomore year. He continues to play through the injury.

It was a common occurrence for the shoulder to pop out of its socket after he made a tackle, forcing Dixon to run to the sideline to get it put back in place quickly so he would be available the next play.

“Sometimes it would happen in the middle of a play and I would do it myself to keep going,” said Dixon. “It would be dead for a play but better the next play.”

A MRI following his junior season revealed a substantial tear and doctors to recommend he sit out his senior season in order to get surgery.

“I was like, ‘OK … but no,’” said Dixon. “I’m not going to sit out. I’m going to play through this year.”

The trainers at New Smyrna Beach (FL) HS tried to get Dixon to at least wear a brace to protect the shoulder, but the device was bulky, weighed down his upper body and restricted too much movement.

“We ran the wing-t, and I looked like a legit fullback,” said Dixon. “I took it off after two plays of practice because I couldn’t deal with it. I would rather deal with it popping in and out.”

In order for him to play this season, the Wisconsin medical staff has Dixon wearing a special brace that limits the rotation of the shoulder, preventing him from going too far back or up with his arms. Through three weeks of camp, Dixon hasn’t felt one pop or needed to make one quick fix.

“I thank the Lord every day for it because I feel like it’s normal almost in a sense,” said Dixon. “In high school, it felt normal to have it pop out all the time. I was used to that, and now it feels like my right shoulder again.”

That sense of comfort has been critical. It’s allowed Dixon to work on his footwork and take a different approach to tackling, saying he has to bring his arms up to wrap up a ball carrier instead of out.

“I love to hit, so any way I can make a tackle is how I will make a tackle,” said Dixon. “I am trying to focus more on technique at this level, especially going against big players. It’s a change, but it’s not too bad.”

He is used to adjustments. An all-around athlete in high school, Dixon – a three-year team captain – was a four-year starter as a cornerback/safety, a three-time all-area pick at defensive back and running back and also dabbled at defensive end and wide receiver on occasion.

He originally thought he was going to come in and play safety at Wisconsin, but was willing to move to another new position - inside linebacker - after talking with defensive coordinator Dave Aranda before summer conditioning.

“When I signed, I didn’t know I was going to play linebacker prior to coming here,” said Dixon. “I am not used to (linebacker) having never played it before, but I am getting use to it. It’s different instinctively. In college you have to know formations, know recognitions, know when the guard pulls you have to do this and other things. It’s a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it every day.”

While the transition has been challenging, Dixon has shown flashes. During a 7-on-7 drill during camp, Dixon made a leaping interception while he was still backpedaling to cover the middle of the field. Looking for athletic players who could make plays in the run and pass game, Aranda has told Dixon to be prepared to be utilized on different defensive packages, and possibly special teams, this season.

“I don’t need a coach to tell me that I am doing good or bad because I can see it for myself,” said Dixon. “I am my own worst critic. All I can do is go watch film, take notes and try not to repeat the same mistakes.”

As for his labrum, Dixon says he’s scheduled surgery for the day after Wisconsin’s season ends; that way he’ll be ready for next year’s summer conditioning program.

“If I am going to play, I want to learn everything about the position that I can,” said Dixon. “That’s my thing. I don’t want to just deal with pass. I want to deal with everything. I want to be an all-around player. If I am going to play, I might as well become one now.”

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