April 22, 2010 10:49:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- While most NFL draft prospects head to specialized pre-combine training destinations, Anthony Dixon didn''t see a reason to leave home.
After re-writing Mississippi State''s rushing records, the Bulldogs'' heralded running back chose to do his pre-draft testing with MSU strength coach Matt Balis.
Balis, who arrived with MSU coach Dan Mullen last spring, helped Dixon evolve from a "power back" into a certified game-breaker.
Always noted for his athleticism as a big running back, Dixon was missing the attention to detail and polished conditioning needed to dominate in the Southeastern Conference, Balis said.
Balis provided the blueprint for Dixon to become the SEC''s leading rusher last season, laying the foundation for what scouts and draft experts have pegged as a third- or fourth-round pick in the draft, which begins tonight.
It all started when Balis sat down with Dixon last spring and told him he needed to be an example as the team''s best player.
"We brought (Dixon) in right away, and I told him ''you''re one of the best players to ever play here and you have to be a guy the other players look up to. When adversity sets in, you have to be an anchor. We''re hanging our hat on you,'' " Balis said. "Right from the get go, we spent time on how to train the right way, how to train yourself every time, and how to get his body in shape to be at the highest level."
Balis knew Dixon can elevate his play with a commitment to reducing body fat and eating like an athlete should.
Ahead of last season, Dixon went from 245 pounds to the low 230s and showed the endurance needed to take a pounding and still be productive throughout the year.
"The key was dropping body fat and increasing lean body mass," Balis said. "He was already an explosive, great running back, but that made him more efficient. It makes you better when you''re carrying less body fat.
"(At MSU) we always get their heart rates up. You have to be in shape to train with us. By staying here, you''re always going to be in top shape."
Dixon set school records for single-game and single-season rushing, finishing with 1,391 yards on 257 attempts.
Dixon''s 252-yard effort in a victory against Kentucky helped him set a new single-game school record.
The performances helped Dixon earn first-team All-SEC accolades from the league''s coaches and from the Associated Press. It is the first time a MSU running back has been a consensus first-team All-SEC selection since James Johnson earned the honor in 1998.
Dixon also was awarded the Cellular South Conerly Trophy, which is given to the top college football player in the state of Mississippi. He finished his career as the school''s all-time career leader in all-purpose yards, scoring, rushing yards, rushing attempts, rushing touchdowns, and 100-yard games.
Dixon ranks second in SEC history with 910 rushes, and his career total of 3,994 rushing yards is eighth all-time in the conference. His 42 rushing touchdowns is the seventh most in SEC history.
Dixon''s 126.5 yards rushing per game average led the SEC in rushing and he stands third in the league in scoring touchdowns. He scored 12 times in 2009.
The accomplishments are part of the reason Dixon saw no need to travel to Arizona, California, or Miami, Fla., like teammate Jamar Chaney, who is projected to be selected in the third round.
Dixon knew Balis would have him ready for whatever drills teams wanted him to do, but the trust went beyond the weight room.
"Coach Balis has been my guy," Dixon said last week. "We''ve built a relationship ever since I got here, about like father and son. He knows when I''m trying to barely get by and knows my ways. He knows when I''m not giving it my all. He just knows me and how to motivate me to give it everything I got."
Some habits, however, are harder to break.
Dixon''s arrest and DUI charge prior to the season-opening Jackson State game contrasted Balis'' and the coaching staff''s aim and efforts to establish Dixon as the team''s leader.
Balis is adamant MSU''s training regimen is about creating quality people and top-notch student-athletes. Dixon''s arrest could have been a setback or a red flag in the eyes of pro personnel, but his body of work and willingness to address the issue made the incident just a blip on the radar.
As Balis sees it, there''s too much to like about Dixon.
"He''s a great kid with a great heart, loves football, and loves life," Balis said. "My thing with Anthony and all our guys is we''re training them to be great players and great men. It''s real easy to say things like hard work, effort, and integrity when dealing with football because you need all those things to be great in the real world.
"He knows we''re always going to be here, and I''ve got his back. It''s not just about football, either. I want him to go back and get his degree once he''s had a year to settle in the NFL."
Balis compared Dixon to former University of Florida running back and current Green Bay Packer DeShawn Wynn in terms of style and build. However, Balis said he hasn''t seen a back with the same type of footwork or fast-twitch movements in such a big frame.
Preparing for the NFL combine and MSU Pro Day, Balis said he and Dixon worked on the start to Dixon''s time in the 40-yard dash and continued to work on nutrition.
"Flexibility, the hips, the ankles, and the speed and power were things we focused on," Balis said. "We did things explosively. We spent time on the start to the 40. We did football drills (MSU running backs coach) Greg Knox set for him. We kept the focus on four to six small meals with lean protein and lean carbohydrates.
"What separates Anthony is effort. He knew he couldn''t let his body de-train, which it will start to do after three days off. But you don''t have to worry about that with Anthony. He goes hard every day."
Dixon''s sub-4.6 40-yard dash time and stellar combine workout times have him in line to be selected Friday on the second day of the draft. The Jackson native said he was satisfied with his workouts and attributes that success to Balis.
"The relationship we''ve built has been great for me as a player and as a man," Dixon said. "Coach Balis knows how to push me, and until I meet somebody like him, I don''t think I''ll change it. I''m going to be around here for a while."