Some people — take Johnnie Dixon, for example — are born with a keen eye.
Anyone who has watched the Ohio State senior receiver track down passes the past couple of seasons, the lion’s share of them for touchdowns, would give him a 20/20 on his hand-eye coordination.
But when football was almost taken away from him a few years ago due to chronic knee problems, his focus turned to the world around him. Influenced by then-teammates Jalyn Holmes and Stephen Collier, he said, he took up photography.
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“It started out as just something to ease some of my stress, to take some of my thoughts away from the injuries and challenges I was facing,” Dixon said of the hobby that advanced from pictures taken with his phone to a serious camera. “I didn’t know if I would be good at it, but I found a love for it and eventually became, I’d say, decent at it.”
His girlfriend, Viviana Romero, said his eye is much more than decent.
“He is just in the moment with it,” Romero said. “If he sees something he likes — we’ll just be walking around at the mall, or we’ve gone to get ice cream or something, and he’ll stop if he sees a building he likes or a scene that he finds cool.
“He doesn’t really take pictures of people. Occasionally he’ll take one with me in it, but it’s more like architecture and the way the light is in a certain place. Anything natural is what catches his eye.”
Dixon explained why.
“Buildings, nature, anything like that is what I find interesting,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of shots of Downtown, that’s probably one of my biggest hits right now. One reason is because I can’t really go anywhere else during the season because of time, but Downtown is easy to get to, and I like shots of places on campus.”
One he provided to The Dispatch had an interesting substory. It’s a shot of the Columbus skyline against a deep blue sky, but with an unused viewfinder for tourists in the foreground, portraying the brilliant scene someone else missed.
“My biggest thing is angles, and I like the way the light works on buildings and trees and things,” Dixon said. “Like I love blue skies, and when you catch some of those purple-pink-blue skies — I like those. Probably buildings and the skies behind them are some of the biggest things I like to shoot.”
Not that he’s always asking Romero to jump into the shot, either.
“Never,” she said. “I have to beg him for pictures sometimes.”
Yet she stepped into his life’s picture when his football career was at ebb tide. A native of Arizona, she met him when the Buckeyes were there in December 2015 preparing to play Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. They became long-distance friends at first, the relationship blossoming until now she lives in Columbus and is expecting their first child, a daughter, due Jan. 15.
“He has been amazing,” Romero said. “Like today, he got up and made me breakfast even though he’s got classes in the morning and then straight to football afterwards. He just finds a way. I just know that whatever happens, he’s always going to be there for our daughter. He’s going to be a great father.”
She watched him deal with the anguish of almost giving up football before deciding to try to push through the knee pain that had bothered him and give the sport one more shot the winter of 2017. It paid off.
Dixon rose to become a major weapon in the offense last season, his two fourth-quarter TD catches against Penn State critical in the Buckeyes’ come-from-way-behind win. The fifth-year senior is part of the deep wide receiver corps seeking to make it two in a row over the Nittany Lions on Saturday night.
His chances of gaining a shot in the NFL have increased along with his playing time. He is ranked 36th among receivers who could be eligible for the 2019 draft by WalterFootball.com. That’s no guarantee of success, obviously, but it’s a long way from where he sat in 2015 and ’16 when he thought he might be done.
It was in the those downest of times, though, when Romero watched Dixon find himself.
“He’s very happy to get to play football now, to do what he’s been dreaming of his whole life, but I think it was good for him to see his career kind of downfall for a while, because it kind of made him realize, ‘OK, you can’t stick to one thing,’” Romero said. “And now he has opened so many doors and opportunities just by finding new hobbies and making connections outside of football.
“He’s just opening himself to other doors outside of football because now he knows that ability to play can be taken from you at any moment.”
That would be no grip-and-grin moment, Dixon said, but football is now just a part of his big picture.
“A lot of what’s come around for me in the last five years is just growing up, really, changing my lifestyle, not doing some of the things I used to do,” he said. “I have a girlfriend, I have a kid on the way, I have my little brother staying with me. I have to be a big brother, a father, a loving boyfriend.
“I just changed the way I view things, and became more open with myself. Like taking photos, it’s one of the things I do now because I really enjoy it. That’s what I preach to others now — be yourself. Don’t let others put you in this little box. When you be yourself, you feel better.”