Dixon: MSU's best runner ever?

STARKVILLE – Anthony Dixon owns the Mississippi State record book. But does he own the title of the best Bulldog running back ever?
That could be an endless debate, but there’s no arguing that Dixon, who has at least three games left in his stellar college career, belongs in the conversation. He ranks first in school history in rushing yards (3,604), rushing attempts (835), rushing touchdowns (39), scoring (258 points) and 100-yard games (15).
In MSU’s last game, a 31-24 win at Kentucky on Halloween, Dixon broke Jerious Norwood’s single-game rushing record of 247 yards, gaining 252 on a career-high 33 carries.
“Somebody will break his record one day, but his name is going to be in the record books for a long time,” said Rockey Felker, MSU’s director of player personnel and high school relations.
Felker was State’s head coach from 1986-90 and has served two stints as an assistant. He coached Dixon and the running backs in 2007 and ’08.
So where does Felker think Dixon ranks among the MSU greats? How does he compare to the likes of Jerious Norwood, J.J. Johnson, Keffer McGee, Michael Davis, Michael Haddix, Walter Packer?
Felker can’t say, partly because he doesn’t want to offend any former running backs, and partly because it’s a tough call.
Dixon’s statistical feats were aided by the fact that he’s been playing regularly since his freshman season. He started six games that year, rushing for 668 yards, and he’s now made 36 career starts.
Well, Johnson thinks McGee, who died prior to the 1997 season in a drowning accident, is the best he’s seen. But he really likes watching Dixon.
“If you watch that kid, every time he finishes a runs, he’s going to dole out a little punishment,” said Johnson, who played at MSU from 1997-98. “He kind of reminds me of myself. Every run, he’s looking at putting pain on you, and that catches my eye, the way he finishes runs.”
Johnson, who played briefly in the NFL and lives in Mobile, Ala., holds the school record for most rushing yards in a single season. He gained 1,383 yards as a senior in 1998, when MSU won the SEC Western Division title. Dixon needs 383 yards to eclipse that mark.
Emulating the greats
Johnson was one of the many MSU running backs Dixon watched growing up in Terry. He would try to emulate them, and he feels he’s got a little of Johnson, Norwood, Dicenzo Miller, Dontae Walker, Nick Turner and others in him.
“I want to be breaking tackles, and breaking to the outside, and juking people, all that type stuff they were doing when I wasn’t doing it,” Dixon said. “When I turn on the TV, that’s one thing about me, I’m like a sponge to the game of football. Anybody I see doing something I want to do, I try to take it and put it in my game.”
Wesley Reed has seen a lot of the great MSU running backs. He was an assistant coach in Starkville from 1970-77, and he’s been employed by MSU in some capacity ever since. He’s currently the associate athletics director for special projects.
Like Felker, Reed has a hard time ranking Dixon or any of the other ball carriers. He said it’s hard to draw fair comparisons.
Haddix ran out of the wishbone behind an elite offensive line.
McGee was just reaching his full potential when tragedy struck.
Norwood played on some bad teams.
Reed even wonders what Dixon could have done with four years under first-year coach Dan Mullen.
“Dan and them do such a good job with him including him in their offense. He makes them go,” Reed said.
Dixon’s really making the Bulldogs go this season. He seems to have reached a new level, as evidenced by the Kentucky game. Plus, he’s had several SportsCenter-worthy runs, like the 50-yard touchdown gallop against Houston, when he carried several defenders the final 20 yards. Or when he did a somersault over the goal line and landed on his feet at Middle Tennessee. Or any time it’s taken half the defense to bring him to the turf.
“He’s matured a lot, and I think the offseason he had with coach (Matt) Balis, it’s real obvious he’s in the best condition he’s ever been in,” Felker said, referring to the new strength and conditioning coach. “His speed I think has even picked up. Of course, he’s been criticized over the years for being too much of a dancer and not hitting the holes, and I think for the most part he’s not doing that as much.”
Dixon has said repeatedly that he won’t consider his senior year, or his career, a complete success unless he can get the Bulldogs back to a bowl game. They’re 4-5 overall, 2-3 in the SEC heading into the home stretch, with games against Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
“If he can go from a 4-5 team and carry them to wins the next three games,” Reed said with a laugh, “then I would call him the greatest running back that’s ever been at Mississippi State.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com.

Dixon year-by-year
Year Rushes Yards YPC TDs
2006 169 668 4.0 9
2007 287 1,066 3.7 14
2008 197 869 4.4 7
2009 182 1,001 5.5 9
Totals 835 3,604 4.3 39

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal