Safety Anthony Nixon figured he would redshirt his first season.
The twists of the season and the Terrapins’ needs ensured he would be needed for a lot more.
First it was a few appearances on special teams.
Then it was emergency duty as the personal protector on the punt team that morphed into full-time work.
And after another surprise in the form of safety Matt Robinson’s groin injury, Nixon found himself in a vital role in Saturday’s 19-14 defeat of Wake Forest.
“I always wanted to start,” Nixon said. “I’m glad it came kind of early.”
Considering the early returns, so are the Terps (3-2, 1-0 ACC).
Nixon was credited with three tackles against the Demon Deacons, though one was an open-field stop of tailback Josh Harris inside the Maryland 20. Yet it was equally important he didn’t create a situation to create headaches for a defense that played well after a blown coverage in the first minute led to a touchdown.
Nixon blended in effectively, and it was by design. One of coach Randy Edsall most repeated mantras is for players to just do the job assigned to them, a philosophy Nixon embraces.
“He made some plays Saturday and it was simply from being where he’s supposed to be,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. “He definitely impresses me because a lot of freshmen worry about making mistakes. I don’t think he does that. It doesn’t seem like he plays with any burdens.”
The Pittsburgh-area product was a high school teammate of fellow freshman Perry Hills, though the two committed to Maryland months apart. Yet like the Terps’ quarterback —- who also couldn’t have expected to play quite as much as he has —- Nixon learned to appreciate the value of watching film before he arrived in College Park.
It’s helped him pick up Maryland’s defense quickly and minimized any impact on the Terps after Nixon was informed Friday he would start.
“He knows what he’s doing on the field,” defensive lineman A.J. Francis said. “He doesn’t make mental mistakes and that’s why it’s good to have him out there. When you have a young guy, one of the biggest problems you’re going to have is when they make a lot of mental mistakes. But he doesn’t make a lot, so it’s good having him back there.”
It was the second time in less than a month Nixon was unexpectedly found himself with more playing time. When fullback Tyler Cierski suffered a concussion in a Sept. 8 victory at Temple, it was Nixon who took the place in the middle of the punt wall.
The responsibilities in that role translated well into what Nixon was asked to do Saturday.
“As personal protector on punt, it’s like you’re the quarterback for the punt team, so you have to know all the protections,” Nixon said. “It’s the same thing as safety on defense. You have to call out all the receivers and what you see.”
There is another parallel in Nixon’s additional roles. He is listed as a starter at safety, and Robinson’s availability for Saturday’s game at Virginia (2-4, 0-2) is uncertain. Meanwhile, Cierski’s return from injury did not dislodge Nixon from the personal protector spot.
As he usually does, Nixon secured it by simply doing his job.
“He did great and ended up winning that job outright,” Edsall said. “He’s doing the same thing in the secondary. He’s a conscientious kid and a smart football player. He takes great notes and really understands the game and asks good questions. For a freshman, he’s done a really good job.”
—- Patrick Stevens