Ohio State football is a perpetual going-and-coming exercise, coaches and fans ruing the departure of stars while growing excited about the prospects from a talented incoming freshman class. But sometimes, that needed new flash of talent comes from within.
Receiver Johnnie Dixon might provide that spark this season, much as defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker did last season, rising from obscurity to become first-time starters and eventual first-round picks in last month’s NFL draft.
“Johnnie was somebody coming out of high school, and in the times since then when he has been a little bit healthy, you saw flashes where he could be a really, really good player,” receivers coach Zach Smith said.
That’s why Ohio State rushed to West Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, during the 2014 recruiting process, along with Alabama and many other schools. But, as Smith said, in the past three seasons the Buckeyes have seen only flashes of that potential from the senior-to-be, who suffered from chronic knee pain and fatigue, severely limiting his playing time.
He thought his career was over after last season before he sat down in January with Smith, coach Urban Meyer and other key training personnel.
“It was more like me wondering whether I wanted to continue to play,” Dixon said. “We had the meeting, and took one more swing at it. I’m glad we did.”
The spring game last month showcased what Dixon can do. He caught six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He showed start-stop-go ability, including one particularly elusive move that left a defender flailing.
“I haven’t done that one since elementary school,” he said, laughing.
To have the chance to show those things in the fall, he said he will stay disciplined with the workout and treatment plan through the summer that worked so well for him through the winter and spring, including what’s called a “blood flow” machine that enhances circulation around his knees.
There was no magic surgery that alleviated his ailments. As one insider said, it was as much Dixon pushing through discomfort where before he had stepped back.
“I haven’t missed a day of practice, and it has been a long time since I’ve done that,” said Dixon, who also credited the encouragement from his teammates. “It was amazing, every day to be out there, bringing energy to the group and all that.”
Smith said this week that the payoff was “back to back to back development on the practice field, which has allowed him to be more the player he really is than he has ever been able to show here in college. In fact, he got a lot better.
“Now if we can just parlay that with a great summer and a great training camp, he has a chance to be a really good player this year. That’s our focus right now.”