Perseverance paid off for Dixon

Edward Sutelan
Knee injuries slowed Johnnie Dixon during his first three seasons at Ohio State, but he had a breakout season with eight TD catches in 2017 and has a career-high 40 receptions this season. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Johnnie Dixon can’t help but look a little past the Rose Bowl.

The fifth-year receiver will be playing in his final game with Ohio State on Jan. 1, but there’s a more important date coming down the road on Jan. 15.

The birth of his daughter.

Dixon said he and his girlfriend, Viviana Romero, had an appointment recently to check on the progress of their child, who Dixon said will be named Zya.

“I felt her head, even though it was weird. I said I didn’t want to poke my baby’s head. I’m scared about all that stuff,” Dixon said.

Having a child has helped Dixon put his career at Ohio State in perspective. It is a career that began with promise. Dixon nearly left the game at one point, but decided to stick around. Now he will be finishing his Buckeyes career in the Rose Bowl.

“Every day, I realize how blessed I am, being able to come back to the game and now having a little one I can tell all my stories,” Dixon said. “I can teach her how not to quit when things hit the fan.”

Dixon came to Ohio State in 2014 as one of the nation's highest-rated receiving prospects, but was unable to put together a healthy season in his first three years because of knee injuries. Toward the end of the 2016 season, he considered quitting the game or at least leaving Ohio State.

“But my love was here,” Dixon said. “I couldn't leave this place, it was too special to me.”

Consulting with his teammate and best friend, receiver Parris Campbell, Dixon decided to give football another chance.

Dixon’s return to Ohio State paid off. In 2017, as a captain and a starter, he played in 13 games and led the team with eight receiving touchdowns while recording 18 receptions for 422 yards as the team's top deep-ball threat.

During that time, he had to learn the limitations of his body — knowing how far he could push himself at practice and on the field without risking re-injury.

“Figuring out your body can be hard, can be tricky, because you don’t know what works well to make you feel better, or what it is that makes you feel worse,” Dixon said. “Once you figure out your body, you know how it works. You know when to call it quits or when to keep going.”

After the season, Dixon faced questions about leaving for the NFL. With Dixon having logged the first fully healthy season in his career, the perception was he would capitalize on the success and declare for the draft.

But he returned to Ohio State, with eyes fixed on another win against Michigan, a Big Ten championship, a spot in the College Football Playoff and setting himself up for success in the NFL draft.

The playoff appearance didn’t happen, but Dixon accomplished the remaining goals. He collected his fifth pair of gold pants, helped bring OSU a Big Ten title and had his best statistical season with 40 catches for 642 yards and seven touchdowns.

Dixon said he didn’t set the bar too high for himself in 2018, but just wanted to contribute to his team’s success and for himself, “make it another successful, healthy season.”

“It exceeded what I wanted,” Dixon said. “Every goal I set for myself, they came true.”

With one more game ahead at Ohio State, Dixon has started to think about the next chapter in his life. He’s thought about what it might be like to be selected by an NFL team.

Dixon thinks every day about what would have happened if he had quit. He tells his girlfriend that he wouldn’t be in the same position in his life if he had.

But he persevered through his injuries and will have a chance to reach the next level after playing in the Rose Bowl.

And some day, when he tells his daughter about his time as a Buckeye, it will be that perseverance he wants her to take away.

“The biggest thing I’m gonna tell her is never give up, even when the toughest times get worse,” Dixon said. “There’s something that’s gonna come out of it. At first, I didn’t really believe it. People always said it, but I didn’t believe it until it happened to me. So I’ll be able to tell her, when she’s going through anything — a boyfriend, schoolwork — just keep fighting.”