Antonio Dixon Has Beaten Longest Odds

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is going to be the runaway winner of Comeback Player of the Year honors and may well win Most Valuable Player acclaim as well. But one of Vick's fellow starters on the 10-4 likely NFC East champion has been through much worse than the convicted felon/dog-killer.

Consider what defensive tackle Antonio Dixon endured before he even reached high school:

• Before he turned four, Dixon's father, Frazier Hawkins, a high school wrestling coach in Miami, was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for drug trafficking.

• Without a high school diploma, Dixon's mother, Corenthia, was unable to secure steady employment that would have allowed her and her five children to afford to rent an apartment. So they shuttled for years between homeless shelters and between relatives in Miami and Atlanta.

• When Dixon was 11, his mother became so hooked on drugs that a social worker took the children from her and placed them in foster homes for nine months.

• Dixon attended what he believes were 15 elementary schools without learning how to read. It wasn't until he was in sixth grade that his dyslexia was discovered. He also had a severe stutter -- one that is only slightly better now that he's 25 -- that often caused other kids to tease him.

And yet, Dixon persevered. While he was attending Miami's Booker T. Washington High School, he re-established a relationship with his father and began speaking to him regularly and visiting him when possible. His mother had kicked her drug habit and found work in the kitchen of a shelter in the downtrodden Overtown neighborhood where the family had lived on and off during their worst struggles. And Dixon, who was always a big child, discovered organized football and finally learned to read. After a year at a prep school in New York following high school, Dixon enrolled at the University of Miami.

Dixon started just 10 games during his four years with the Hurricanes, but he would spend 20 hours a week in study hall in order to become the first member of his family to graduate from college. And in the spring of 2009, Dixon walked across the stage in cap and gown, a feat he topped when he was named as one of just six student-athletes nationwide to win the Wilma Rudolph Award for persistence in overcoming hurdles on and off the field.

After being bypassed in the NFL draft, Dixon signed with Washington as a rookie free agent. Although he debuted with five tackles, four for losses, in a preseason game against Baltimore, he was not in great shape even before suffering a back injury. Dixon couldn't beat the long odds of winning a job at the Redskins' deepest position and when the team cut him with the idea of grooming him on the practice squad, Philadelphia pounced and signed him to its roster.

"He was playing good for us in the preseason," said Redskins co-captain London Fletcher. "You saw him as a guy who should have made your football team and eventually work into your rotation. And we just gave him away."

To a division rival, no less. Dixon played in every game for the Eagles last year, recording 17 tackles and a sack.

"I think he's always had the ability," said Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. "He was very raw. It was really a matter of sculpting him. Sculpting his body, sculpting his technique, and really just trying to train him. It's a good story -- a very good-hearted kid who's made it from nothing, basically, and now he's a starter."

Indeed, when three-year starter Brodrick Bunkley injured an elbow during the first quarter in Week 6 at San Francisco, Dixon took over and although Bunkley was back within four weeks, Dixon has remained the starter.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity and I've just been busting my tail," said Dixon, still fighting his stutter. "I'm a way better player, technique-wise just from learning the system for a whole year. My penetration has been my best thing. Teams are using two blockers on me on almost every down because of my strength.

"I'm proud of myself, but I can't let it go to my head. I've gotta keep on working hard so I can reach my full potential. I know I've still got a long way to go. I had some problems in my life, but I never gave up. I kept on working hard and it paid off."

For the Eagles that is. One of Washington's starting tackles from 2009, Cornelius Griffin, was cut in March as was backup Anthony Montgomery. The other, Albert Haynesworth, was suspended for the rest of the season 16 days ago. Reserves Lorenzo Alexander and Kedric Golston have switched to outside linebacker and defensive end, respectively, in the Redskins' new 3-4 scheme which really could use a space-eater like Dixon at nose tackle where Ma'ake Kemoeatu came up short this year. Washington is last in overall defense, 27th against the run and headed toward at oblivion at 5-9 after going 4-12 last season.

"I don't think Dixon should have ever gotten off this roster," said Redskins center Casey Rabach who has battled him the last two seasons and raved about his playing with leverage and his bull rush. "We knew he was going to be good. Every time he was out there in preseason, it seemed like he was making plays."

Still listed at 6-foot-3 and 322 pounds, Dixon doesn't look as good as 2006 first-rounder Bunkley and he doesn't shine that often in practice, but he has 36 tackles and two sacks to Bunkley's 28 and zero.

"If you watch the film, you'd think he was a high draft pick," Golston said. "Dix was always a hard worker and he was coachable and with the ability that he had, he's thriving up in Philly. It's just a testament to the character that he has. I'm proud of him."

The Eagles, 2-2 in Bunkley's four full starts, are 7-2 with Dixon in lineup. And their defense, in the bottom third of the league in September, is 13th overall and 11th against the run.

"He hasn't that imposing, but he is tough to move," McDermott said of Dixon.

"I've always been better in games than in practice," Dixon said. "I don't know why, but when the lights come on, I'm just a different person."

And a man who has overcome so much to attain the success that he has achieved.

Click here to order Antonio Dixon’s proCane Rookie Card.

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