After more than two years away from football, Antwan Dixon will have to battle to get up to speed and earn playing time at Kent State. Considering the battle he just won, that should be a breeze.
Dixon was medically cleared to rejoin the Golden Flashes on June 10 — 14 months after receiving a life-saving bone marrow transplant from his father. After passing what the Record-Courier’s Allen Moff termed “a rigorous series of tests conducted by both personal and team doctors,” Dixon is ready for anything football throws at him.
“I’m Antwan Dixon again,” Moff quoted a smiling Dixon as saying between workouts on June 14 in Kent, Ohio. “I’m normal again. It’s go time.”
Dixon was afflicted with aplastic anemia, a potentially fatal condition which, per the Mayo Clinic, “occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells. Aplastic anemia leaves you feeling fatigued and with a higher risk of infections and uncontrolled bleeding.”
He was originally diagnosed as a high school junior at South Fort Myers High in Florida and the disease returned following his freshman season at Kent State in 2015.
By fall 2016, the disease rendered Dixon unable to play football or even take classes, and he returned home to Florida for treatment.
According to Moff, Dixon received his transplant from his father, Anthony Dixon, in April 2017. He left the hospital a month ahead of schedule thanks to his recovery, foreshadowing the progress that would lead to his return to the football field.
In fact, Moff reported, it was when Dixon left the hospital that he began plotting his football return.
“People always talk about the risk and all that other stuff. But if you live your life with caution, you’re not living your life how you want to,” Dixon told Moff. “Everything happens for a reason. You get through it. You’ve just got to keep pushing.”
Now, he’s pushing his way through summer workouts. And he’s just fine with that.
“Everything was hard. I was struggling every day. But it’s not hard anymore,” said Dixon. “Now everything’s back to normal. I feel like myself again. I just hope people see that there’s always a chance if you have faith in everything you do.”
Dixon showed his potential as a freshman back in 2015, gaining 162 yards on just 11 carries and catching 26 balls for 355 yards. In his final game, against Central Michigan on Nov. 18, 2015, Dixon had 50 yards — on three touches.
Paul Haynes, the Kent State head coach when Dixon’s disease re-emerged, kept Dixon on scholarship throughout his entire ordeal, Hoff reported.
Sean Lewis is now in charge of the program, and is happy to have Dixon back with the team.
“We’re really excited first and foremost that he’s got a clean bill of health,” the first-year coach said. “The kid’s got such good energy. All through the spring he was around the team non-stop. It’s great to have him back out on the field. We’re slowly getting him back into the swing of things. We’re excited to see when he’s back to full speed and full health what he’s capable of doing.”
Now Dixon is worrying about things more common to football players … including a hamstring injury suffered during a December workout that continues to bother him.
“My hamstring is probably about 60 percent right now, but in the weight room I’m about 85 percent. I think I can get to 100 percent with everything way before the preseason,” Dixon told Hoff. “They told me to ease back into the workouts, but I’ve been finishing the whole workout. I’m a little sore, it hasn’t been easy, but I’m finishing so I can get back in shape and mentally get my body together to do everything. I feel great.”
And come Sept. 1 and the season opener against Illinois, Dixon will be ready. For anything.
“I look back [on the 2015 season] and it motivates me, because I know I can be two or three times better than that,” said Dixon. “But right now I just want to get healthy, stay a certain weight and be a great teammate. All of that leads up to being a great football player.”