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MUTKA: Fordham resurrects football with Dixon’s help

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Updated: December 1, 2013 6:57AM



Human nature being what it is, you could understand why Jake Dixon had some misgivings about playing football at Fordham instead of Grand Valley State in 2011.

The Portage graduate admits he had his doubts after a disastrous freshman year at the Bronx-based campus. Fordham went 1-10, he broke his collarbone and the coaching staff was fired.

“We were kind of the laughing stock of the country,” said Dixon.

Quite a culture shock for the three-sport star, who rushed for nearly 2,800 yards and scored 41 touchdowns in his last two years of high school.

Fortunately, a new coaching staff quickly injected positive vibes. Moreover, Dixon’s position coach, Tim Cary, was retained because of his history with Coach Joe Moorhead at Connecticut, easing the transition on a personal level.

“That helped,” said Dixon. “My rehab also went better than expected.”

In his sophomore season the Rams improved to 6-5. Saturday, the renaissance continues. Moorhead’s Rams will be gunning for their ninth straight victory against Holy Cross, in a tussle between rival Jesuit schools.

“We’ve created a buzz on campus,” Dixon said. “We’ve put it all together.”

How the former Duneland Conference MVP chose Fordham is a story within itself. Originally he had zeroed in on Grand Valley State, a Division II power in Michigan. His backup plans included being a preferred walk-on at Indiana or Purdue, but he shifted gears after a phone call late in the recruiting process.

“Fordham had seen highlight tapes of my junior year at Portage,” Dixon said. “They liked my athleticism.”

Fordham was an unknown to a kid from the Midwest. At first he confused the Patriot League school with Furman, which is situated in Georgia.

“I had no idea until I looked it up,” he said.

One visit and their highly regarded business school convinced him even though Dixon had originally planned to stick closer to home.

Perks include being just a five-block walk from Yankee Stadium. Dixon is not a huge baseball fan, but admires future Yankee Hall of Famer Derrick Jeter, and has attended several games.

Obviously football remains his passion, especially with an unbeaten season within Fordham’s grasp.

Because of a front-loaded schedule it seems like a more realistic goal to the strong safety. Early victories over ranked Villanova (27-24) and Temple (30-29), which has mingled with Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Louisville, have raised the football profile.

That’s not easy at a basketball-oriented school.

“We’re turning the corner,” said Dixon, “but the basketball team plays in the Atlantic-10 Conference and is a big money-maker with a TV contract.”

Temple provided a historic moment for the Rams, who had never before beaten a Division I team. Usually those are throw-aways, which trade rare revenue opportunities for guaranteed losses.

“We knew we could compete, but they considered it a tuneup game,” Dixon said.

Temple may be struggling, but the Owls presented scrapbook material. Doing it in dramatic fashion on their turf added flavor.

“Absolutely,” said Dixon. “We beat them on the last play.”

Fordham scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Mike Nebrich to Sam Ajala with four seconds left.

“We had to deal with video replay,” said Dixon. “It was crazy on the sidelines.”

The sturdy 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior, living up to preseason all-Patriot League hype, has ranked among Fordham’s tackling leaders for the past two years. He topped out early with seven solos and an interception against Rhode Island, the Rams’ first victim.

Not bad for someone who barely played defense in high school. Does he miss offense? Not at all.

“I never thought I’d say this, but I love defense more,” he said. “I really enjoy it when I make a play.”

So far he’s credited with 29 solo tackles.

Can Fordham finish off the best season in its 90-year history? Currently the Rams are ranked No. 8, their highest ever in the NCAA FCS poll.

So long, ‘Ticket Lady’

They called Cindy Eaton the “Ticket Lady” at the Valparaiso University athletic ticket office, where she served as ticket manager for the last 17 years.

She’ll be tough to replace, but Eaton has retired.

“We sold our house quicker than expected and are moving to Florida,” she said.

Holding that Tiger?

Gary’s Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont provide two strong in-house candidates for Detroit’s managerial job, which Jim Leyland vacated after winning three division titles and two pennants in eight years.

Both are former managers of the Pirates, Mac doing a five-year stint at Pittsburgh, where he began a long connection as a player for the departing Tiger boss. In his last seven years on Leyland’s staff Mac served as hitting coach.

Lamont was the American League manager of the year with the White Sox in 1993, but was fired two years later. In Detroit he has served as bench coach and third base coach.

Leyland has campaigned for both as managerial material. McClendon has been interviewed by GM Dave Dombrowski, who is being mentioned as a possible successor to retiring Commissioner Bud Seelig.

Other possibilities with World Series exposure are fired managers Charlie Manuel (Phillies) and Dusty Baker (Reds).



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