(CBS Miami)- One thing that immediately becomes clear in speaking with NFL Draft prospect and former Wisconsin Badgers safety D’Cota Dixon is the strength and clarity of his faith and spirituality. A native of Coconut Grove in Miami, Dixon’s parents both struggled with substance abuse leading to some difficult times for Dixon and his older brother Dexter growing up. But, where most people would be angry about growing up in those circumstances, Dixon looks back on his experiences as a child as a part of his maturation process that shaped him into who he is today.
That isn’t to say that Dixon didn’t carry anger from that childhood trauma. When he first began playing football, he enjoyed it because it gave him a safe outlet for his anger and frustration. Even in those early days, he saw football as a way out of the life he and his parents were living and now he finds himself on the precipice of a professional career with the draft coming up next Thursday. As the whole league begins to descend upon Nashville for next week, Dixon took some time to speak with CBS Local about his journey to get to this point.
How did you get your start playing football?
It all started in Miami when I was right around eight or nine years old. That’s when I first really committed to the game in Pop Warner and began playing in the way that led me up through high school and into college.
What was it about football that drew you to the game?
I loved playing the game because when I was young and I had anger issues. I used to have anger problems, going to anger management classes and stuff like that. So when I was able to play football it was a way that I could kind of release my frustrations without getting in trouble for it.
Ever since then though, I realized, my dad used to always take me outside and run routes, run me and stuff like that. I knew at an early age that it was my way out and my way to going to school so I took it very seriously even at a young age.
You mention it being your way out. I know your childhood wasn’t easy, how would you say that has shaped you into both the man and football player you are today?
It shaped me tremendously. I believe that it was really by the grace of God that I was able to experience those things at a young age early in my life because it allows me to be able to be here and carry myself the way that I do. That isn’t to say I’m perfect by any means, don’t get me wrong. Anger and frustration is still quite in me. That doesn’t just go away. But, as you mature you learn to balance it and you learn the do’s and don’ts when it comes to your attitude.
For me, just being a follower of Christ has always really balanced me out. That is what really has grounded me and that is my why. It’s been a journey and an adventure growing up, developing into a young man and seeing where God has me going from here. I feel good about it though. I’m extremely blessed to have those experiences when I was young because it has paid off for me as I have gotten older.
As part of that journey, football was as you said your way out. When did you come to that realization that you wanted to pursue that avenue to higher levels in college and now to the pros?
I knew when I played Pop Warner that I wanted to go to play football in college. You grow up seeing all kinds of things. Some people go to school and don’t end up taking advantage of school when they have a scholarship and they come back home. Or, you see guys selling drugs that you grew up with. Or, there a guys going to jail and getting themselves in trouble. Then there are other guys who are really content with just staying at home and living in the same house for the rest of their lives.
That was something that motivated me growing up. I knew that I didn’t want to be like that. I take a lot of pride in being a follower of Jesus Christ, so for me being average wasn’t okay with me. To this day, I don’t like being average. My girlfriend and I talk about that all the time. We don’t want an average relationship. It has always been a motivator for me in the back of my mind and in my heart that based on how I grew up, I wanted to go to college and to the NFL.
That motivation and desire to be anything but average, how much has that driven you through your four years at Wisconsin to the point where you are now an NFL prospect?
It has driven me. This is a weird transition in life for anybody coming out of college. You’re so used to going to school throughout your life, always goal oriented and always had a schedule. Now, the difference in transitioning through this period is in trying to be your own professional and learning how to work with integrity and just trying to figure life out.
For me, my foundation is in Christ so anytime I have issues or problems or questions that is where I tend to lean and go to first. You don’t know what is going to happen whether you will have a ten year career, three year career or go undrafted. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter because I just want to play the game of football. I love what I do, have since I was young, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
That transition is certainly hard as is the one from high school to college, so what was it about Wisconsin that made you want to go there?
I really felt like the people here were different. Number one, I knew I wanted to get out of Florida and experience something different. I wanted to grow up a little bit and Wisconsin gave me the opportunity because it was over 1,000 miles away from home. So it was great from that perspective.
But, I also tried to imagine myself being able to live here even if I wasn’t playing football and I felt like I could. That was the deciding factor for me.
Once you got on to campus, what was the ‘welcome to college’ moment for you on the football field?
When I put on the pads and was going up against the likes of Melvin Gordon, Kyle Costigan, and Rob Havenstein all guys that are now in the NFL and having successful careers. That is when I realized this was a whole different level.
Now, after a successful four years at Wisconsin, you were named the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year. What did you think of being named the winner of that award?
Honestly, I didn’t really expect to win it. I don’t think anybody ever is really expecting to win a prestigious award like that. I was just honored that my name was on the list. But, to be named the winner of the award was honoring and humbling. I honestly feel that it is more just an expression of the grace of God in terms of the people that he has placed in my life and allowed to mentor me and help raise me.
It really just goes to show you that that award was really not just won by me at all. There are so many people that I could name a list of who got me to that point. My stepmom, Beth, if she didn’t raise me and get me out of foster care, I don’t know what my direction in life would have been. It’s truly just a testament to the grace of God.
As you look forward now and prepare for the NFL, what are the areas of your game you are most looking to improve upon going to the next level?
Honestly, all around. This is a whole new level. My biggest thing is I want to be a student. I want to earn the respect of my teammates in the locker room and earn the respect of the coaches in the organization. That is my biggest and first goal.
That will take all kinds of forms. Whatever I am asked to do, I will do it. Special teams, defense, a backup or different position, my goal is to maximize my potential in that position.
The final question I have for you, for any fans out there wondering what you bring to their team and community, what would you say that is?
The first thing I would say is I’m more than just a football player. Being a football player is just an aspect of who I am, it’s not the entirety of me. My identity is in Christ Jesus and that is how I think of myself first.
Secondly, for the team, I am a leader. As I said before, I don’t want to be average. That means I don’t want to be an average friend, teammate, or an average program. I bring that type of mindset and mentality to my leadership in a team.
In the community, I bring a positive and servant mentality to the community. That is something I have always had a passion for. It’s a way for me to engage with others, get to know others and worship God. I truly enjoy serving people. Those are the main things I bring to any team that brings me in.
Having been through what I have in life, I think I can definitely bring some encouragement for those going through struggle or hardship in their lives.