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Practice notes, plus a Q&A with big Dixon

For starters, all of this is what I gathered from players and coaches. The media is not allowed to watch the scrimmage and all we really got to see in the first 25 minutes of practice were three field goals -- all made -- by Matt Bosher, Francisco Zampogna and Daren Daly.

- Aside from that, reports are the defense had a pretty good day. Derrick Morse and Eric Moncur both told me a number sacks of we're made by my the defense.

- The offense was limited to one touchdown and kicked two field goals according to several players. The touchdown came on what I was told was an amazing catch by Sam Shields against Randy Phillips.

- All in all, though, the passing game struggled according to several onlookers and the running game was the focus. Graig Cooper, though, had a few nice plays in open space including a long return on a punt.

- Freshman Shawnbrey McNeal, who had previously failed a physical, reported and practiced for the first time. His teammates said he had a few impressive plays on runs too.

- Jared Campbell, the younger brother of Calais Campbell, had an interception and is currently practicing with the second team at safety.

I'll come back Thursday with more on what I learned from the scrimmage, including some good interviews with Morse, Cooper, Darnell Jenkins, Lance Leggett, and Moncur. Some of the audio will be up later today.

Antonio_dixonBut for now, enjoy this Antonio Dixon Q&A. Just some background... Dixon is a kid from Miami Booker T. Washington High who I wrote about in The Herald his senior year. He's a junior currently competing for starting time at defensive tackle. He was alongside starting with Teraz McCray today. Dixon has a severe speech impediment and stutters. He bangs his chest or his leg to try and stop himself. He's still a sweet kid, who has overcome a lot including being homeless at times with his mother. I caught up with him Tuesday morning to update you guys on his story. Enjoy.

Q: How is the family doing?

A: Everybody is doing good. Everybody is doing better. My mom has moved to Dublin, Georgia. She got a nice apartment, a good job. She’s doing good. My younger brother is going to Dublin High, he’s 17. My little brother and little sister are still in elementary school. My older brother, he just got married. The situation is a little better. I miss them a lot, but I’m the type of person, I don’t get too worried because they’re going to be alright. I keep my mind on football.

Q: How do you think living on the streets, being homeless at times in your life in high school make you a stronger person, tougher for the college game?

A: I wasn’t like a bad, bad kid. I was bad when I was little. But I never really like sold no drugs or shot anybody, but I seen my friends who did it. Mostly, I just stayed in the house and played games all day. My coach asked me to play football and I did alright. At first, I didn’t know where it was going to take me because I never played any organized football before. I just grinded every year and kept working hard and it got me here. I’m grateful for that.

Q: I know you’ve always had trouble speaking, what is it that you have and how do you deal with it?

A: I have a speech impediment. I guess it passed on from generation to generation because my daddy stuttered. But he never stuttered as bad as me. He just stuttered when he got mad. His daddy used to stutter a lot. I’ve been stuttering all my life, but I’m getting better with it. I’m getting better. When I was little, I used to get picked on so much, I used to let it get to me. The freshmen, they never heard me talk before, I stutter and they start laughing. But I don’t let it get to me. I just slow down, talk and think about it a little more when I’m a little nervous.

Q: Who are your roommates and what are they like?

A: My freshman year it was Bruce Johnson and then my sophomore year I was single. But now, we got an apartment in The Villages with Courtney [Harris] and Spencer [Adkins]. We just moved it in there. It’s quiet right now. We didn’t clean, we really didn’t do nothing. We just go home and go to sleep. Life is pretty good right now.

Q: So, if we went to that apartment right now...

A: Y’all wouldn’t find nothing [laughter], it wouldn’t be dirty or nothing.

Q: How has camp been going for you? I know the knock on you has always been your weight, conditioning. How much weight have you dropped and do you feel a difference?

A: Bowl game I weighed in at 355 and I know I had to drop weight. So, I’ve been trying to drop. Now, I’m 325. I’m trying to get down to 315. I got to keep on pushing. I feel better. I feel way better than my freshman year. My sophomore year, I just got to keep on pushing.

Q: What’s the most you have weighed since you’ve been here and what was it – we’re you eating late at night, pigging out?

A: I was eating at nighttime and it always got me in trouble. Our running backs and wide receivers were doing it, so I thought I could too. I was eating everything, Chinese food, pizza. But for the last five, six months, I’ve cut that out. I’ve cut out breads out. The only time I really eat it is when I go to practice. I eat chicken. Coach Swasey said that if we do go to McDonald’s, we order like a burger or something, to eat the meat [only] and get a small milkshake. I try to control my eating more.

Q: So, you’re eating better. How is it resulting in your play? Are you playing better? I mean are you practicing first or second team?

A: I don’t even know because we rotate so much. We’ll probably won’t even know until game day with the d-line. But for the d-line, it don’t really matter who starts or who don’t start because you could start one game and not start the next. The whole d-line is just trying to push all of us to get better and that’s working now. It’s slowly working, but it’s working.

Q: I know the whole idea when you came here was to get yourself ready for the NFL or a career so you could take care of your family. Do you think your going to get to the NFL? Are those dreams really possible?

A: I feel like if I don’t get lazy and keep pushing and do what coach tells me to do when they need me I think I’ll get there. I just got to keep pushing. [Coach Hurtt] he wants me to be the man. He wants me to step up and my teammates tell met that too. I try to push, I mean mainly point out that I’m inconsistent. Mainly I’m trying to get better. One day I do bad, one day I do good. Two days I do good, two days I be bad. I’m just trying to change that.

Q: Is that the biggest hurdle for you? Is it consistency?

A: I think so. In high school, we didn’t have no film watching. We didn’t do all that. It is pressure on me and our whole d-line because the d-line is the heart of the defense. If they break through our d-line, that’s when touchdowns happen.

Q: I’ve got to ask you about the offensive line. Orlando Franklin is a guy who you battle against, a guy who has impressed coaches early. What impresses you about him?
A: Orlando is big. He’s strong, big. He’s got good feet and his fast. He’s impressed me a lot. He’s doing good.

Q: What about other guys? What’s it like to go against Derrick Morse? You hear about what a tough guy he is.

A: D-Mo is going to go 100 percent even when your tired. He tries to push me too. He tells me, I’m going to push you everyday. The whole line is doing way better. I think we’re going to be much better. They are bigger, stronger, faster and block good.

Q: Do you think Coach Shannon’s mentality he’s had with the defense really made its way to the offense and made them better?
A: Yeah because like at first, I was like I don’t want to be over here [with the offense]. My heart is with the d-line. But now, we all talk. I mean, it’s a good thing.

Q: Let’s talk about school. What do you hope to accomplish with school? What’s your major? What are your tough classes?
A: I’m a Liberal Arts major, but I’m going to change to Criminal Justice. I go to class every day and I try so, it isn’t hard as long as you apply yourself. I’ve been doing extra study hall since I’ve been here.

Q: You have a learning disability? How much did you know how to read before you got here?
A: Yeah. Dyslexia, a reading problem and some spelling problems too. I knew how to read like a small word, but when I might see a big word, I’d have to sound them through. But Ms. Christine is working with me.

Q: Is that the same tutor Frank Gore had?

A: Yeah. I mean a lot of us are working with her, a whole bunch of players. But she helps us and I think its good.

Q: So you want to be a police officer one day?
A: I’m not sure yet. But we’ll see.

Q: Got to ask you about Bryan Pata. I know you guys were close. Both of you came from the same streets in Miami, played the same position, and grew up together the way you did.

A: We were very close. I remember high school, I’ve seen him playing and I was like ‘That boy good.’ And when I came here on my first visit, he was my host. It was hard to see him [die].

Q: How much do you still think about that, seeing what he went through, seeing him die? Does that change your behavior? Do you go out and party as much anymore?

A: I did [party]. You know as freshman and sophomore, you want to party all the time. But when it happened, I just chilled. I was like we’re not invisible. A lot of us think we can’t get shot, we can’t get stabbed, we can’t get killed. But coach Shannon, he changed that now. We get caught we’re in trouble. When I do go out, I don’t drink that much or not really drink at all. I try to have a fun time, but I try not to start no fights with anybody.

Q: Give me a good Bryan story? What was your favorite experience with him?
A: My favorite experience was after the North Carolina game. His last week before he died, the weekend before the Virginia Tech game. Me, him and Catfish [Dwayne Hendricks] went to his mama’s house and his mama cooked, his sister cooked, everybody cooked. The food was good. Creole and shrimp pasta. And then, three days later, he was gone.

Q: You guys spent a lot of time of time together?

A: He was [number] 95. I was [number] 96. We were right there together. Everytime after games, we’d go out to Hooters, we’d go out to Denny’s or go out to eat. I was very close to him. He was a good person off the field. Now, I heard stories about his freshman and sophomore years, he was pretty bad. But his senior year, he didn’t go to no clubs. He was pretty chill. He didn’t get in trouble with nobody that I knew of. He was chilling, I got to get my family out of the ghetto. He was serious about his family.

Q: How much do you guys still think about him? Do you still do anything to honor him?
A: His birthday was just the other day [August 12th]. We held a moment of silence. Our whole line, Josh, Chaz, the young people think about him everyday. We all looked up to him. It’s hard to see him pass away like that his senior year.