Finally healthy, Dixon impressive in spring game

Kevin Stankiewicz, Staff
Buckeye Grove
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Scott Stuart

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Johnnie Dixon didn't want to jinx himself so he knocked on the small round table in front of him.

"I do this every time I say something about it," Dixon said with a laugh on Saturday after Ohio State's spring game.

The "it" Dixon is talking about is the condition of his knees. Since he arrived in Columbus as an early enrollee in January 2014, Dixon has been limited by knee tendinitis and, he said, some right-knee arthritis. He's caught a mere seven passes for 55 yards in his career. But on the field Saturday, with his knee pain finally dormant, Dixon caught everyone's attention by hauling in six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

On a team desperately needing help at wide receiver, Dixon showed he could become a big-time contributor. He hauled in a 44-yard touchdown. He caught a nice over-the-shoulder 18-yard touchdown. He showed great field awareness by getting one foot inbounds on 13-yard catch.

And so as Dixon sat in the postgame interview room, reporters wanted to know what it was like for Dixon to finally show what he was brought to Ohio State to do.

"It felt great," Dixon said. "The best part about it is like, I catch a ball on the Gray squad side and Parris [Campbell] and Terry [McLaurin] are over there cheering me on, so that's the real big feeling for me. I love when they're cheering me on, and we doing the same for each other."

The relationships Dixon has with players like Campbell and McLaurin are a big reason why Dixon is still with the program. Dixon said Saturday that as he sat in the Buckeyes' locker room following their 31-0 loss to Clemson on New Year's Eve, he did not think he would be back for a fourth season.

"I didn't know if I wanted to stay or just not play anymore. It was just frustrating for it to keep happening over and over," Dixon said.

When the team got back to Columbus, though, and in those first weeks of school, Dixon realized that he was not yet ready to give up on it.

"Riding around the town and being like, 'I won't see this building again, I won't see my brothers again,' it was saddening," Dixon said. "I thought about it every day. I talked to Parris probably every day of that, and he's like, 'We need you.'

"So I'm like, honestly, I have to come back because I felt like a coward leaving the situation."

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Scott Stuart

"Where I’m from a lot of people go out and just quit," said Dixon, who is from West Palm Beach, Florida. "So I feel like there’s a lot of people looking at me, and I couldn’t do that.”

A meeting soon after spring workouts began solidified Dixon's decision to return. The meeting, consisting of head coach Urban Meyer and assistants Zach Smith and Ryan Day, was an honest conversation, Dixon said.

"It was never him bashing me. He told me honestly what I needed to work on," Dixon said of Meyer.

"I know [Meyer] really cares about me," Dixon also said. "He wants what's best for me. I feel like I had to put in my work to show him that I could do it."

And throughout the spring, including Saturday, Dixon has.

"He's been playing well all spring," said redshirt sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow, who tossed the 44-yard pass Dixon corralled for his second touchdown.

"He had the best spring. He didn't miss a practice," Meyer said. "I was so happy to see him have great success today, because we really need him."

Meyer said Dixon's journey has been "frustrating for all of us." His knees would never let him settle into a groove.

"He would go two practices and have to miss two," Meyer said. "When he was healthy, he just didn't make plays, because he would never practice enough to get in the rhythm."

The key now, though, is Dixon staying healthy enough through summer and into the fall for his rhythm to continue. With the entire offense needing to improve on its 2016 output, Dixon's presence could be valuable in it being able to do so.

Dixon said he has been able to get to a point where he stops worrying about if the pain will flair up out of the blue.

“You’ve got to let that go," he said. "You can’t think about it, just continue to hit my rehab like I am and if I’m feeling good like this everyday, I feel like I can do it in the season.”

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