The countdown clock keeps ticking for Johnnie Dixon. This time it’s a good thing.
The receiver from West Palm Beach, Florida, a prized recruit when he signed with Ohio State in 2014, has spent the past three seasons barely able to contribute more than an occasional play or two because of chronic knee pain.
This past winter, however, he learned to push through it and is weeks away from perhaps becoming a major factor in the offensive revitalization for the nation’s second-ranked team.
“We make a big deal around here about calling the family and saying, ‘Go buy your … airline ticket to come watch your son play at Ohio State,’ ” coach Urban Meyer said. “And he’s within probably a week of getting that phone call. It’s really cool to see.”
Video | Johnnie Dixon, Urban Meyer on Dixon's rise after almost calling it quits
For the first time in his Ohio State career, Dixon is able to stack good practice and scrimmage performances on top of each other. It’s another indicator that a player who always had outstanding ability also appears to have reliability.
“I had a very good summer, I think; the whole team did, actually,” Dixon said. “I feel like I’m one of the higher-up guys now.”
His fellow receivers know about Dixon’s struggles, and now they see him finally getting to show what he can do.
“I’m happy for Johnnie,” junior Terry McLaurin said. “He’s had some adversity, but I respect him because he didn’t quit — and he’s had opportunities where he could have walked away. He’s really made the strides, more so off the field, that’s helped on the field. He’s not worrying about extra-curricular or academics or anything else. He’s healthy and he’s ready to go.”
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In the days after a loss to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal in January, Dixon said he gave serious consideration to calling it a career. He played in just seven of Ohio State’s 13 games, unable to contribute consistently because of knee pain. He finished with six catches for 26 yards.
“A couple of weeks went by and I was thinking, ‘Why not give it another shot?’ ” Dixon said. “Thank God these guys gave me another opportunity.”
After meeting with Meyer, receivers coach Zach Smith and medical and training personnel, he was urged to push through the initial onset of pain in his knees and he found solace on the other side.
“I had to be a little tougher in my mind,” said Dixon, a fourth-year junior. “Sometimes I got down on myself and thought it was my fault but it was nothing I really could control.”
Now he’s doing the things daily he and others always thought he could, showing speed bursts and leaping ability to go along with what have always been some of the better hands on the team. Meyer, Smith and new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson not only are talking about him being a possible starter, they’re talking about calling his family members to tell them the same.
“It feels really good because just a few years ago you don’t hear your name,” Dixon said. “That’s kind of what you want to hear. It kind of pushes you.”