Back in Pittsburgh, playing together at Central Catholic High School, Anthony Nixon and Perry Hills always hung out after games. Friday nights were spent on fields, then at Hills’s home. So when Hills committed to Maryland, the quarterback made his pitch.
Four more years together, he told Nixon. Rather than stick around at an area school like Pittsburgh, why not come to College Park, too. It didn’t take much convincing for Nixon to follow along.
Described by coaches as studious defensive back who’s always asking questions, Nixon has thrived in recent weeks, earning himself a starting spot in the secondary when safety Matt Robinson went down with a groin injury before Maryland’s 19-14 win over Wake Forest. Not bad for a true freshman who figured he’d redshirt this season.
Nixon often slept over at Hills’s house following Central Catholic games. The next morning, they’d ride together for film study. Nixon loved the mental aspect of football. Watching film always made the game easier for him.
“Anthony’s done a good job asking questions that don’t just pertain to him but to the whole scheme, so he can understand how he fits and where he fits,” defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. “At practice, if and when you correct him, he’ll go over it on tape, and say, ‘That’s the one you told me to correct, Coach.’ He’s always thinking.”
Against the Demon Deacons, Nixon wound up winning the game ball on special teams, where he has spent most of the season as a personal protector on punts. He finished with three tackles, and if Robinson can’t play against the Cavaliers, should receive the bulk of playing time at safety.
“Anthony knew there was a great opportunity,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “I think the biggest thing he did, he just went out there and did his job. He was prepared. Made that one nice play on the bootleg, made a really good play when we were in man coverage and [Wake Forest running back] Josh Harris broke through there, made a tackle in the open field.”
Assorted quotes from Stewart’s Wednesday availability
On Maryland’s goal-line stand against Wake Forest: That was awesome. It was great all across the board. The defensive linemen, they cut their offensive linemen, which made it easier for the backers. Dexter [McDougle] came flying all out, with his best impression of Troy Polamalu without the hair.
On scheming for Virginia’s two quarterbacks, Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims: Sims has got an opportunity to play in almost every game. You’ve got a chance to see him and how he handles the offense. They’re going to run the same stuff, do the same things. There’s not a difference. I’m glad I don’t have to make that quarterback decision.
On cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, who like Nixon has come on strong in recent weeks: Jeremiah is another guy, everything’s important to him. When you talk to him about football, he sees it. You can talk to him, and he sees it, just like an arrow. Smart kid, good grades, and that’s why he’s probably a good football player. Knows how to study, knows what to do.
West Virginia, he really had a good game. Stat wise, it didn’t show. He hit the quarterback three or four times, playing nothing but nickel against those guys. Did a good job, as small as he is, to come inside and take on the blockers and do the runs. I think that was his best game. [Wake Forest] was his most productive game as far as playing the ball. I really love the kid.