Freshman lines up for No. 1 Gators
Published: Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 5:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 5:26 p.m.
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- For a week, freshman offensive lineman Xavier Nixon kept a secret.
He kept it from his friends and his family, but Saturday, his secret was revealed.
When Florida's offense trotted out onto the field for its first possession, Nixon went out with the first team, making his first start for the Gators at left tackle.
UF coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Addazio both hinted at their desire to get Nixon on the field for more significant time this season and after a short meeting between Nixon and Addazio last Sunday, that want became a reality as Nixon spent all of last week working with the starters.
No major breakdowns by the offensive line and 20 consecutive wins for the top-ranked Gators (10-0, 8-0 SEC), who fought off South Carolina (6-5, 3-5 SEC) for a 24-14 win.
"I don't even know how to explain it," Nixon said of making his first start. "It was a crazy experience. I was thinking about starting when I first got here and realized it's a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I just started grinding and now I'm here."
Nixon wasn't perfect Saturday. He missed a couple of assignments, but he cleaned those up and adapted throughout the game. One thing that helped him was a bit of advice he got from one of the veterans on the team.
Like Nixon on Saturday, junior cornerback Joe Haden was asked to jump into the lineup as a true freshman in 2007. The difference was he made his start during his first game as a Gator and with barely any older players to guide him.
Leading up to the game, Haden told Nixon not to get down on himself when he made mistakes because they were going to happen. It was up to Nixon to take them in stride by not letting them consume his mind.
With the support group around Nixon, Haden said he wasn't surprised the freshman performed with such a calm, cool demeanor against the Gamecocks in a hostile setting.
"He has it better than me because he can lean on the Pouncey twins and people that already played," Haden said. "If he ever has any problems, he can just lean on them because they played as freshmen, too."
Nixon's performance was made more impressive because he worked under a silent cadence. Nixon said he didn't hear the crowd noise because of how much he concentrated on not missing assignments and knowing when to move and when not to on the line. That focus was one of the biggest things that impressed his head coach.
"I don't believe we had a mechanical error, a procedural error as far as a penalty," Meyer said of Nixon's play. "He's going to be a great player."
Even with his solid start, Nixon admits he was overwhelmed early. It wasn't just nerves that got to him. Nixon had the duty of trying to stop All-SEC linebacker Eric Norwood, who occasionally lined up at defensive end.
Norwood kept Nixon busy all game, but really introduced Nixon to the life of a starter when he got past the tackle and hurried quarterback Tim Tebow early Saturday.
Nixon said he didn't let Norwood's play get to him. He used it as motivation to not allow the defender near his quarterback again.
"He was tough," Nixon said. "He got me one time early in the game. He's one of the great players and the only thing I can do going against him is get better and become a better player."
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