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As a full-time starter this season, Nixon is the adhesive (the quarterback of the defense) who holds together the top-flight unit, ranked 15th in defense among major colleges. He leads the team in tackles and is tied for interceptions. In the 2009 opener against Idaho State, Nixon picked off three passes, taking one back for a score, and blocked a punt.
All this despite being "marginally athletic," according to ASU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Craig Bray.
Playing a position that rewards intuition and intellect, Nixon seems magnetized to the ball, almost always in the right spot. He's an old-school type whom storied ASU football coach Frank Kush would have suited up during the Border Conference days. The lead-by-example Nixon never performs a celebratory spasm after making a tackle, which would cause him to go unnoticed if it wasn't for all the plays he makes.
Nixon's situation as an older guy jumping the pro-baseball ship for college football is a rarity, but not unheard of.
Chris Weinke, the 2000 Heisman Trophy-winning Florida State quarterback, played minor-league baseball for six seasons out of high school. Quan Cosby — whom Nixon competed against in the 2002 Pioneer League Single-A championship — toiled for four years in the Anaheim Angels organization before becoming an elite wide receiver for the Texas Longhorns. Currently, David Shinskie, a six-year minor-league-baseball veteran, is a 25-year-old freshman starting at quarterback for Boston College.
When Nixon's freshman season began in 2006, he was older than most of the seniors on the team. This year, there's an eight-year age gap between 26-year-old "Uncle Mike" and some of his teammates. Also, ASU graduate assistant coach Alex Hamill is close to two years Nixon's junior.
Nixon says, "Age comes up a lot. Anytime we're arguing and I prove a point, they say, 'You know what, if I were 50, I would know that, too.' That's literally the comeback I hear on everything. Or, 'I'm sorry I'm not 35 and haven't experienced that yet.' I like hanging out with the younger guys. I feel like I'm stuck in arrested development when I'm around them."
Nixon's often ridiculed for his taste in music. Instead of the hip-hop that pounds in Sun Devil Stadium before each game, Nixon prefers listening to rock-oriented Sublime, Rise Against, and Finch. Because these bands feature impassioned male lead singers, Nixon's teammates lump his music into the dreaded "emo" genre.
"I'm past the point of defending myself," jokes Nixon.
On top of football demands, he's managed to earn a 4.0 GPA as a political science major on track to graduate in December. (To wrap up his undergrad coursework, he's taking three online classes: criminal justice; Sex, Violence, and Media; and, no joke, the History of Pirates.)
Getting back into the classroom was a big deal for Nixon when he gave up on his Dodgers dream. As a professional player, the clock on NCAA athletic eligibility begins upon enrollment in a course. Because of the rule, Nixon (who wanted to leave the door open for a college career) hadn't taken a class since high school.
Though he remains a walk-on, his college tuition is paid for. That's because, before inking that baseball contract, his parents had the foresight to insist on a provision that the Dodgers pay for his college education.
Nixon lives solo a few miles from campus, an indulgence he didn't have during those years on the road. A serious competitor on the field, he is the opposite at home, where he often mellows out in his well-kept, two-story house with his three-year-old golden retriever Tobias, out-of-town visitors from his baseball days, and fellow Sun Devil linebacker Travis Goethel. So many people are in and out of his space that it's been dubbed "Hotel Nixon."
He definitely likes to let loose on occasion. For instance, on Halloween night, just hours after the Cal defeat, he and his buddies dressed up as the Village People. Nixon was the cop, complete with handcuffs, a billy club, and aviator sunglasses. But he and his friends weren't satisfied with the costumes purchased at Easley's Fun Shop; they cut the sleeves and shorts much shorter, the goal being to make the beefy Mill Avenue-bound crew extremely uncomfortable to look at. It worked.
Nixon's an avid reader, whether it's the latest Harry Potter tome or news on ESPN.com and CNN.com. He's also dating but has no plans to start a family anytime soon. "I feel like I'm pretty clear with the people I date that there are things I want to get done. I'm not 26 looking to get married within a year. The people I date either say, 'That sounds good' or 'I better move on.' If that's the case, that's fine. Nothing personal," says the finalist for the Wuerffel Trophy, which recognizes humanitarian, academic, and athletic achievements.
One of the things that he wants to get done could happen on Sundays.
"Even if Nixon pulled in 100 tackles and eight interceptions [this season], he still may not improve his draft position," says Michael Abromowitz of www.thefootballexpert.com. "Nixon had three interceptions in a game this past year, but it was [against] Nobody State."
Who's got the film rights? I am sure someone like Kevin Costner would love to read this Guy's story. It is also good to say the name of Nixon appearing as a good guy instead of tricky Dicky. Well done Steve, it gives a honest impression of sport in the USA from the overpaid to the underdog. It is hard out there, I just wonder what sort of career all these guys will have when their bodies are worn out. I am sure there would be a good article in looking at the fortunes of the players after they retired.