MADISON, Wis. — D’Cota Dixon has developed enough perspective to understand that life as a college football player is fleeting.
All the big plays, the victories, the cheers in front of packed stadiums will be gone soon enough. That’s why, as Dixon enters his final season at Wisconsin, he wants to take an active role in impacting as many people around him as he can, to pass on the knowledge he has learned so others can carry the torch.
“This is my last year, obviously,” Dixon said during spring practice. “I’ve contributed. But the show goes on. There will be somebody else in my jersey when I’m done. The biggest thing is trying to really let these guys know that it’s your team. Taking more ownership, being a professional about how you handle your business.
“As far as in the classroom or whether you’re getting rehab, treatment, whatever it is, none of us are boys. We’re young, but we’re not boys anymore. At least that’s the standard I try to hold. There’s a lot of learning and a lot of growing to come. But you can still hold the standard.”
Dixon is the only returning starter for a Wisconsin secondary that will play a major role in determining the team’s overall success. Dixon has played in 42 games with 23 starts at safety. He owns 134 tackles, 13 pass breakups and 5 interceptions. But beyond the statistics is a player whose passion and willingness to help teammates stand out. He has a vested interest in how well the young players develop, not only for his senior season but for the future.
During spring practice, Dixon was sidelined while recovering from right shoulder surgery. However, that did not stop Dixon from frequently staying after practice to share tips with the team’s defensive backs.
“He is the father of the team,” Badgers freshman safety Reggie Pearson Jr. said. “He’s the most spiritual guy ever. He’s a great dude. Definitely I look forward to playing with him and look toward him to help me on the field. Just little things he tells me like, ‘Just relax, play football. If you need to call, just come talk to me.’ We just go over a lot.”
Dixon has been working his way back into playing shape this offseason. He missed two games entirely and parts of three others last season while battling a hamstring injury. His presence on the field will be vital as he helps a group of talented but young defensive backs.
Wisconsin lost starting cornerbacks Derrick Tindal and Nick Nelson, as well as safety Natrell Jamerson. Nelson left school a year early and was a fourth-round selection of the Oakland Raiders in the NFL draft last month. Jamerson went in the fifth round to the New Orleans Saints. Tindal went undrafted. The Badgers also lost safety Joe Ferguson, who filled in admirably when Dixon was injured. Those four players collectively recorded 131 tackles with 44 pass breakups and 8 interceptions.
The Badgers will rely on cornerbacks Madison Cone and Dontye Carriere-Williams, as well as Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks. Redshirt freshman Scott Nelson, who is Dixon’s best friend on the team, could start at safety alongside Dixon. Patrick Johnson is another candidate at safety after appearing in four games before suffering a season-ending left arm injury. Of that group, Carriere-Williams was the only one to see regular action last season, as Wisconsin’s third cornerback.
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said Dixon was taking the experiences he learned as a young player in helping his teammates. Leonhard lauded former Badgers safeties Michael Caputo and Leo Musso for having done the same for Dixon.
“He does an amazing job just being that vocal leader and sharing his experience,” Leonhard said. “He had that from veterans around him in the past, and now he’s trying to be that to a very young group around him.
“A lot of what myself, sitting in my office, is trying to figure out is how do you just accelerate the process? How do you take steps out of the process to get guys better faster? You can’t create experience. They’re not going to have it. How do we try to help them out and help them take those steps, get guys there in a hurry, because we’re going to need it in the fall.”
Dixon said he has tried to give his body a chance to heal before one final go-round with the Badgers. Wisconsin once again is considered the Big Ten West favorite and will have an opportunity to vie for a College Football Playoff spot.
Regardless, Dixon’s intention is for his legacy to be about laying the groundwork for the future of Wisconsin football.
“The biggest thing is you try to obviously be an example,” Dixon said. “But in a situation like this, words can only do so much, especially when you’ve got a bunch of guys who are hungry. And I know that because I’ve been there, as well.
“But there has to be a point to where guys acknowledge that the talking has to stop. So much talking doesn’t really get us better. You have to internalize what you’re hearing and what you’re doing and start actually doing it at some point.”