Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
One slip-up in the preseason wasn’t going to ruin what had been one of the most committed stretches of Anthony Dixon's football career.
The fast-talking and hard-running senior tailback simply wasn’t going to allow that to happen.
If anything, his DUI arrest back in July -- one of those situations that Dixon says now that he should have never put himself in -- has served as a motivator for doing everything the right way.
His lifestyle. His diet. His work ethic. His commitment to his team. His commitment to helping Mississippi State get back to a bowl game.
“Mentally, spiritually … I’m just better at everything I’m doing,” said Dixon, who became Mississippi State’s all-time leading rusher last week in the 27-6 win over Middle Tennessee.
“I’ve really changed a lot. I’ve started living differently and just taking everything a little more seriously. Really, I’ve just turned it up, turned that knob all the way up, broken that knob. I’m turned up to the max right now and ready to go. This is my senior year. I don’t have many more chances to leave my mark on this league and leave my mark on this program.”
Dixon, who has 3,299 career rushing yards, was suspended for the opener against Jackson State as punishment for his DUI arrest. But he’s gained at least 100 yards in every game but one since returning to the lineup. That one game that he didn’t was his first game back against Auburn, and he had 94 yards.
“I’m making some good reads and hitting the hole,” said Dixon, who’s third in the SEC in rushing with 696 yards and seven touchdowns. “I still have to get my pad level a little lower and finish off the play. I’m kind of mad at myself from the last game. I let the safeties get me twice, and I know I should have beaten them. That’s the thing I’ve got to do better this game.”
Dixon is downright giddy about measuring himself against the Florida defense, which is ranked second nationally and has only given up two rushing touchdowns all season. But more importantly, he knows it’s a chance for the Bulldogs to get back on track in their quest for a bowl game.
“It’s the biggest game of my life, playing the No. 1 team,” Dixon said. “It’s my first time getting to play Florida. I watched them coming up as a kid. It’s a chance of a lifetime, man. I’ve been dreaming about this day. I’m not going to hold anything back. I’ve been telling my teammates the same thing. We have to get that intensity up, because I know what kind of intensity they’re going to have.
“This is our chance, on national TV, to show everybody what we’re about at Mississippi State.”
Mississippi State first-year coach Dan Mullen said Dixon’s energy has been infectious and is one of the main reasons this team hung in there despite three tough losses in a row prior to the win last week at Middle Tennessee.
“Every day at practice, he’s high energy, high effort,” Mullen said. “In the locker room, he’s high energy and high effort. When he plays, you can see that in how he plays on Saturdays. He’s really a team player, and that’s an important thing when you’re trying to build a program, to have your best player to be all about the team.”
Dixon, who’s sixth all-time in the SEC with 787 rushing attempts, was coming off the best offseason of his career when he ran into his trouble off the field two weeks before the start of preseason practice. He’d dropped 20 pounds, reshaped his body and was moving better than he ever had.
But he admits, for a split second, that he lost his focus and let his team down.
“I didn’t have my mind right, to let something like that happen,” Dixon said. “It was something that happens to a lot of people, and I made a mistake. I’m definitely not perfect. But even though I put myself in that situation, I was still working my butt off and giving it all to my team. I just went out and tried to have a little fun and made a bad decision.
“But you realize that it’s all about staying focused on the things that matter, and what matters is this team.”