Wednesday October 24, 2012Xavier Nixon: Clearing the Path
By Anthony Prisco, UF Communications
The University of Florida’s Fightin’ Gator Marching Band was in formation, awaiting the arrival of their beloved Gators. Fans were cheering in anticipation of their team taking the field when the squad burst out of the South End Zone tunnel and ran onto the field with the fight song blaring. To anyone who has attended a football game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, this description sounds like a typical day at The Swamp. However, this specific day was a little different though.
The contest was against the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the second game last season and it occurred nearly 10 years following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Leading the team onto the field, carrying an American flag, was offensive lineman Xavier Nixon, whose parents both serve in the United States military.
For Nixon, it was a tremendous honor. The senior has lived all over the world with his family, growing up in military bases across the globe.
“I consider myself a part of the Army,” said Nixon. “I have put in 18 years of service.”
Despite the ever-changing distances apart, Nixon’s family has always made the effort to be there for him. At various points during his childhood, Nixon would live with his grandmother while both of his parents were deployed overseas. When his father was deployed in Iraq, his mother would send game film of their son after all of his games at Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, N.C.
On those videos, Nixon’s father had the opportunity to see one of the top recruits in the nation – his son. Chosen as a Parade Magazine All-American in high school, Nixon was invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a senior. There, he made the decision to commit to the defending national champions, the University of Florida.
Nixon hit the ground the running when he arrived in Gainesville. He started the final five contests of his freshman year, including the 2009 SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome against Alabama and the 2010 Allstate Sugar Bowl versus Cincinnati.
Against South Carolina on Nov. 14, 2009, he became the first true freshman to start at offensive tackle for the Gators since Mo Collins started at right tackle in 1995. Both of his parents were granted leave to come to the game. Nixon did not tell them ahead of time that he would be making his first career start.
After a successful debut campaign, Nixon earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors. He also was a CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-American Team Honorable Mention for his contributions his first season as a Gator.
“He is the future here,” former Florida and current Miami Dolphin center Mike Pouncey said of Nixon. “You are talking about a freshman who played the toughest position on the line. He is so far ahead of where a lot of guys are.”
Over the next two seasons, Nixon would be a mainstay on the Gators’ offensive line. He played in every game during the 2010 and 2011 seasons and started 17 of them. Prior to his junior season, Nixon was recognized as one of the top offensive linemen to watch in the country, earning a spot on the Outland Trophy Watch List.
Entering his final season on campus, Nixon knew that he would be relied upon, being one of the most experienced players on the roster. With that in mind, the offensive lineman worked hard in the offseason to sculpt his body and prepare for his senior year.
“I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” the senior said. “I am a lot more confident in myself and I am a lot stronger and more balanced.”
His hard work in the offseason is paying dividends now. The senior has started every game at left tackle and has helped Florida to an undefeated start to the season with six victories. Nixon and his teammates on the offensive line are leading the way for classmate Mike Gillislee, one of the top running backs in the conference.
Nixon has been recognized twice this season by the SEC for outstanding performances. In the season-opening victory over Bowling Green, he registered a team-high 93 percent grade in anchoring an offensive line which tallied 365 yards of total offense against the Falcons. Nixon also played an instrumental role in the Gators’ upset of No. 4 LSU, as the hosts ran the ball the last 25 plays of the game and converted 7-of-14 third downs in the game.
With his career at UF beginning to wind down, things are coming full-circle. During his freshman year, Nixon was blocking for 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Now, he is protecting the blind side of sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, whose mobility draws comparisons to Tebow. In its most recent outing at The Swamp, Florida defeated defending SEC Champion LSU, 14-6. Before that triumph, the last time the Gators had subdued the Tigers was during Nixon’s first year, when the Orange and Blue notched a 13-3 victory in Baton Rouge. The team has stated that their goal is to reach Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game on December 1.
By the way, the most recent appearance by Florida at the Georgia Dome for the league’s title tilt just happened to be during Nixon’s freshman year in 2009. One may consider the similarities a coincidence. For Xavier Nixon, a person who has seen the world and experienced so much in such a short time, anything is possible.