COLUMBUS – It started almost as soon as he arrived at Ohio State. His knees hurt. Both of them.
Johnnie Dixon was rated one of the top 10 high school receivers nationally when he signed with Ohio State in 2014 but suffered setback after setback and never stayed healthy long enough to make more than token appearances on the field.
But this season, after three years of frustration that drove him to consider giving up football in January, Dixon is showing signs of doing what he expected to do when he got to OSU.
His 59-yard touchdown catch at Indiana last week was the first receiving TD of his college career and only the ninth pass he has caught at OSU. He also caught a 6-yard pass against the Hoosiers and came out of that game feeling healthy and optimistic.
“I’m much more enthused. It was a long time coming and now I’m just ready to get into the next week, the next game and keep it rolling,” Dixon said on Wednesday.
Tendinitis in one knee, an arthritic condition in the other and a couple of surgeries made Dixon think maybe he wasn’t meant to play football anymore after he was unable to compete in the Fiesta Bowl.
He stayed away from offseason workouts for around two weeks before meeting with OSU coach Urban Meyer, co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day and receivers coach Zach Smith to say he wanted to take what Meyer called “one last swing” at getting on the field.
He was a spring game star with six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns, but lots of guys who grab passes and headlines in April spend September through December watching from the sideline.
The proof this year could be different came when he continued to out-run both defensive backs and injuries this summer during workouts and practice.
“I feel good every day after practice, which is amazing,” Dixon said. “I used to go home after practice and be real, real sore. Now I just go home and relax with my girlfriend. It’s much better when I don’t have to go home and worry about knee pain.
“Every day after practice I rehab. I get in there and do something and make sure I’m not hurting the next day or night. It’s just maintenance,” he said.
If Dixon stays healthy and continues to be a deep threat, it would be big not just for him but for an Ohio State offense that had only four pass receptions of more than 40 yards last season.
Like Dixon, the rest of the receivers are ready to escape from the past and go in a more positive direction.
“We took it as a challenge. A lot of people attack us and say we don’t get open or whatever. We’re just trying to get better at everything,” he said.
Personally, Dixon hopes the Indiana game was just the beginning of better days.
“It was very, very important to me as well as our unit to come out and perform. Playing in a game before was fun and all that but you’d never really made an impact. To make an impact is special,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.