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Persistent Dixon flying with Eagles
Antonio Dixon has beaten the odds so many times that he's lost count.
A severe stutter was the least of Dixon's troubles. One parent was in federal prison, the other hooked on drugs. Dixon shuttled between homeless shelters and foster homes. He attended more than a dozen schools and, because he suffered from dyslexia, didn't learn to read as a child.
Dixon surmounted all of that to earn a football scholarship to the University of Miami, graduate in four years and become one of six NCAA athletes to win the 2009 Wilma Rudolph Award for persistence in overcoming hurdles and achieving on and off the field.
The 6-foot-3, 322-pound Dixon didn't play much in his four years with the Hurricanes, starting just 10 games and recording only 71 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Still, the Washington Redskins signed him as a rookie free agent in April.
The trouble for Dixon was that the Redskins already were loaded at defensive tackle with All-Pro Albert Haynesworth, longtime starter Cornelius Griffin and veterans Kedric Golston, Anthony Montgomery and Lorenzo Alexander.
The only spot for him was on the practice squad, which is where he was headed after being one of the Redskins' final cuts. But the Philadelphia Eagles liked what they had seen of the Miami native and signed him to their roster.
Eagles coach Andy Reid, who worked with Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache in Green Bay, said the fact that Blache liked Dixon was important to him.
"Greg Blache is one of the finest defensive line coaches in this league, so if he liked him that's a pretty good player," Reid said.
Dixon made five tackles, four of them for losses, in the preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens - enough to impress the Eagles when they scouted the Redskins.
"He was a player who we liked in college [though] he was a little on the raw side," Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said. "He's obviously a gifted player with good athletic ability for a big strong guy. We thought that he had improved, even in his short time in Washington, to where we thought he was good enough to make our [roster] and help us in our defensive tackle rotation."
He certainly has done that. Dixon plays 10 to 20 snaps behind starters Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley. He made his first tackle in Week 2, sacked the New York Giants' Eli Manning in Week 8 and kept Philadelphia within three points in the fourth quarter Sunday by blocking Chicago's field goal try.
"I told Bunkley I was going to block it," said Dixon, who thought he should've blocked Robbie Gould's 49-yarder in the third quarter.
"Antonio Dixon, I can't say enough about the guy," Reid said after the Eagles followed the block by driving for the winning touchdown. "He came through bigger than big with the blocked field goal. He's developed into one of our favorites here. He's a great kid, a pleasure to be around."
Quarterback Donovan McNabb said his teammates love Dixon's attitude.
"It's always good to see him with a big smile on his face," McNabb said. "[He's] happy about his opportunity, and he's taking full advantage of it."
Dixon, who faces a constant battle to keep his weight under control, is thrilled to be on a roster, especially on a team that might be playoff-bound.
"I had made a lot of good friends on the Redskins, and I was looking forward to being on the practice squad," Dixon said.
"Griff and the guys helped me out so much with my hands and my footwork. But my agent told me that he thought some [other] teams were interested in me, and then the Eagles called. I was really nervous the first game because I didn't know I was going to play, but I've been fine since then. Looking back at some of the things I had to go through, I'm very proud to be where I am. I just had to fight. I'm still fighting."
Dixon's success makes Griffin beam like a proud papa.
"Dix is a great guy who's been through a lot," Griffin said. "He works hard and he's coachable. There are guys on the street who wish they had the opportunity he had. I didn't want him to let that opportunity be wasted, and he's making the most of it."
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