Ohio State receiver Johnnie Dixon, with ball, showed promise during the spring after a career filled with nagging knee injuries to this point. ASSOCIATED PRESS
COLUMBUS — Johnnie Dixon’s once-high prospects were all but forgotten by the end of last season, and Dixon himself openly wondered whether football was worth the effort.
Nagging injuries — tendinitis in one knee, arthritis in the other — have kept the former star recruit mostly out of sight and out of mind as a college player. Yet Dixon chose to give football a final chance this year, and suddenly it seems like a potential answer for an Ohio State receiving corps that desperately needed a player to emerge.
As soon as Dixon’s health seemed like a lost cause, he had a complete spring, and was the breakout star of the spring game, catching six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Now, meaningful football doesn’t seem so far away for Dixon.
“Johnnie's an enigma,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said after the game.
Dixon was a high-school standout in West Palm Beach, Fla., whom ESPN ranked the No. 5 receiver in his class. He enrolled early, in 2014, and projected as a future star.
But his chronic leg issues dictated otherwise. His entire body of work in three seasons: seven catches for 55 yards, and four carries for 20 yards.
The Buckeyes just couldn’t keep Dixon on the practice field, and the constant stop-and-go stunted Dixon’s progress as a player.
“He got here and got his tendinitis issues in his knees, and he would always go two practices and miss two. It was frustrating for all of us,” Meyer said. “Then when he was healthy, he just didn’t make plays because he would never practice enough to get in a rhythm.”
After another frustrating season in 2016, Dixon thought he was finished playing football. He missed the start of offseason workouts, then decided — with input from teammates and the Buckeyes’ coaches — he would try one more time.
“It’s a terrible feeling just sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want to play. Do I want to play?’ ” Dixon said. “Once you figure out you want to do this, your mindset changes. I feel like I had a different approach to it and a different mindset.”
Dixon’s case is different from many football injuries because it has no timetable. His case is daily and unending, and as such, requires extra work.
With the help of a blood circulation machine, extra stretching, and attention from Ohio State’s medical team, Dixon’s pain-management case was under control this spring. He was able to do everything from squats to running routes to taking hits without missing time.
“I do the same rehab things I’ve done, I just do it on a more consistent basis,” Dixon said. “At times [in the past], I got down on myself and was like, ‘Maybe I’ll skip out on rehab.’ Every day after practice [now], I make sure I get in there and do what I have to.”
Although it ultimately was a scrimmage, the spring game was the best sign yet for Dixon, whose performance was especially encouraging for his teammates.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins said the whole team has seen Dixon’s skill in practice, and it finally translated to a game setting.
“Johnnie’s a beast, man,” Haskins said. “I got a lot of reps with him during the last couple practices. I’m just happy for him. I got to throw him a touchdown and he was so excited. He’s a really good player.”
Now, Ohio State’s challenge is to keep Dixon as pain-free as possible going into fall practices.
The Buckeyes saw glimpses of Dixon’s ability Saturday. They would like to see more of it come late August.
“He had the best spring. He didn’t miss practice,” Meyer said. “I was so happy to see him have great success [Saturday] because we really need him.”