D’Cota Dixon never anticipated becoming the person others in the University of Wisconsin secondary look to for guidance, or better yet one of the Badgers’ team captains who sets the tone for practices and speaks up before games.
But the senior safety owns that role as well as anyone in his third year as a starter, and you likely couldn’t find a player, coach or other member of UW’s program who believes otherwise.
“I’ve always just thought about being the best D’Cota I can be for this team, being the best me,” Dixon said. “Not even just as a football player, but as a person. I thought that was important, too, for the culture of the locker room. That’s really it. I never thought about anything else.”
Dixon enters Saturday’s Senior Day matchup against Minnesota at Camp Randall Stadium with 31 starts for the Badgers and ranks fourth on the team this season with 4.63 tackles per game.
His influence off the field reaches much further. Dixon earned a spot as one of 13 finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which annually recognizes the best football scholar-athlete in the nation – partly for his community activities that include mentoring youth at a correctional center, developing a program for student-athletes aimed at reducing the stigma of seeking mental health services and speaking to community and youth groups. Dixon was also nominated to the 2018 American Football Coaches Association Good Works team.
“I think at the end of the day, when all of this sports stuff falls off and the dust collects on your back, the legacy you will leave is, what did you do?” Dixon said. “How did you make people feel? How did you love people? How did you impact people’s lives? I think those are the things that have eternal effects, verse playing the game.”
Even so, Dixon made a significant impact on the Badgers during his time in Madison as well.
Particularly this season, when UW desperately needed his leadership in a secondary that replaced every other starter and entered the year void of of any other defensive backs with meaningful playing experience.
“You just try to get those guys to understand,” UW defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard said. “Just watch (Dixon), just see the day-to-day focus, the day-to-day preparation and what he cares about and how much he cares about the team. It’s impressive, and for a young group, it’s been priceless. It really has.
“What he does and teaches, it’s hard for coaches to be there all the time, and when you know that the right messages are getting to your guys day in and day out, it gives you a lot of confidence in that group.”
Dixon’s mindset rubbed off on many of the Badgers’ young defensive backs, including fellow starting safety Scott Nelson.
The redshirt freshman became close with Dixon, who he called “the ultimate leader,” shortly after Nelson arrived on campus last year and credits Dixon with helping him mature into a starting role early in his career.
“He’ll give everything he’s got,” Nelson said. “He’ll die out on the field for you. He’s taught me that you have to earn respect and then you can hold others accountable. It’s not like he’s just chilling out here and then demanding other players play harder. He practices as hard as he can every single day.”
Nelson said Dixon’s been soaking in every moment the last few weeks as he now prepares to play his last game at Camp Randall on Saturday.
He may not headline any All-American teams and likely won’t be the highest-selected Badgers player in next year’s NFL Draft. Dixon’s absence will be felt in many areas next season, though, and it could take much more than talent to replace him.
“D’Cota means a ton to this team,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “Who he is and the true care that he has for his teammates and for this program and how he goes about his day-to-day, it’s truly been special to be able to be around him. I don’t know that the words or stories can really put it all into the right context. He’s been unbelievable.”