BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's Josh Boutte knows his late hit on Wisconsin's D'Cota Dixon two weeks ago looked bad. He's thankful that the recipient of the hit - which drew an ejection, a one-game suspension and a flood of criticism - was willing to listen to his side of the story.
Believe it or not, the conversation that took place during Boutte's apologetic phone call and their communication via text message afterward created a bond between the two players.
"D'Cota Dixon, he's a really good guy, really nice guy," Boutte said Monday while speaking to reporters for the first time since the Wisconsin game. "I got to talk to him and we exchanged numbers. We became friends over something that probably shouldn't have happened. But in a way, I'm glad that we got to meet. ... I just wish him the best."
Dixon had every reason to doubt Boutte's version of what happened on the play. The 346-pound LSU offensive lineman leveled Dixon well after the Tigers' final offensive play, where Dixon had sealed the Badgers' 16-14 upset by intercepting a Brandon Harris pass. Just as Dixon made it back to his feet to celebrate the interception, Boutte barreled into him and delivered a brutal hit on the unsuspecting defensive back.
Dixon said he had already forgiven Boutte for the hit even before he called the next day to apologize and make sure he was OK. However, he appreciated that Boutte had requested to make contact so he could extend those sentiments.
"He was just saying, 'How are you doing? How is your head feeling?' He was like, 'Man, I really didn't mean to do that. I'm sorry for what I did,'" Dixon recalled. "He mentioned how he thought I was still up, which I could kind of see. So I told him it was all right, it was totally OK and don't worry about it. It happens. It's part of the game."
When the call ended, Dixon took a step that he worried might be inappropriate. He texted the Louisiana number that had just called him, unsure whether Boutte had even called from his own cell phone. The return gesture helped the two players find even more common ground.
"I texted him asking if there was anything that I could possibly pray for him about," Dixon said. "He ended up texting me back and saying, 'Yeah, just pray that we have a good season and that God's hand is on both of us moving forward throughout the season.' So I ended up praying for him and it was OK."
Dixon's text touched Boutte, also a devout Christian.
"I would have to say [what helped us become friends was] just our relationship with God," Boutte said. "He was a big God guy and after I found out that, it kind of like just meshed. It's almost like he's been in my life. It was really good. He's a really good guy."
Boutte faced near-universal condemnation from media critics and across social media immediately after the game, but LSU's stance from the beginning has been that Boutte did not realize Dixon was down before the hit.
"Anyone who knows Josh knows that he did not mean to hurt that kid or hit him [flagrantly]. It just was bad timing because it was at a frustrating point in the game," LSU center Ethan Pocic said. "But anyone who knows Josh knows he didn't mean that. He was on the other hash and you see on film the kid gets up and from when the ball got intercepted, [Boutte] didn't stop running. He was running full-speed, and he honestly thought he was making a tackle."
Just as he told Dixon that it was not an intentional cheap shot on their phone call, Boutte reiterated that point on Monday.
"On TV it seems like it happened so slow, and you can tell in the game experience, I literally looked up, I saw the ball in his hand and I was like, 'I've got to get the ball,' " Boutte said.
Even if it was an unintentional late hit, LSU still suspended Boutte for the Tigers' game against Jacksonville State the following week. Dixon was fortunate to be OK, but Boutte could have seriously injured the Badgers defensive back on the play.
"Even though this was done by mistake, a play like this does not belong in the game of football, and therefore, action must be taken," LSU coach Les Miles said while announcing Boutte's suspension two days after the Wisconsin game.
Boutte admitted the ordeal has been embarrassing, although Dixon's forgiveness alleviated his shame over the situation somewhat.