Many times Antonio Dixon wondered how so much could go so wrong for one kid.
“I would always question God: ‘Why are you doing this?’ ” Dixon says. “Stuff would get good and then it would turn bad, and when it turned bad, it would turn real bad.”
As bad as losing his father to a federal prison. As bad as seeing his mother develop a drug problem. As bad as calling homeless shelters home. As bad as not learning to read until the 10th grade.
Foster homes, dyslexia, a severe stuttering problem, more schools in a few years than most people attend in a lifetime. The trials never seemed to end.
Yet Dixon overcame it all and in doing so gave himself a chance to realize a dream playing in the NFL.
Now the 23-year-old defensive tackle faces one more daunting challenge to make that happen: Earn a spot on the Washington Redskins’ roster at the team’s deepest position.
Dixon didn’t know his father, Frazier Hawkins, for much of his childhood.
When Dixon was 3, Hawkins, then a high school wrestling coach in Miami, was charged with drug trafficking and sentenced to 25 years in a federal prison in Jesup, Ga.
With her husband behind bars and without a high school diploma, Dixon’s mother, Corenthia, couldn’t 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 relatives in Miami and Atlanta.
The pressure of being her family’s sole provider got to be too much for Corenthia.
By the time Antonio was 11, his mother was so deep into drugs that a social worker took the children from her and placed them in foster homes for nine months.
The constant moving around took a toll on Antonio’s education. He estimates he passed through some 15 elementary schools, all without learning to read. His dyslexia wasn’t discovered until he was in the sixth grade, and he started receiving some special help.
He developed a severe stutter, an impediment that made him the frequent target of other children’s abuse and a handicap that he still struggles to control.
“It was hard,” Dixon says as he slaps his wrists, a device he employs when he just can’t get the words to come. “All my brothers could read, but I just couldn’t pick it up. Kids would tease me a lot. I have a short temper, and when I was younger I couldn’t control it. I used to get in a whole bunch of fights.”