It seems that being early is a part of who FSU middle linebacker Stephen Dix Jr. is. He committed to FSU almost a year before he signed his scholarship. The redshirt freshman enrolled early in order to get a head start not only as a student but also to allow himself the chance to play early, which of course he did.
Dix was one of 17 players on FSU’s roster who played as a true freshman last season. But what he didn’t have was the opportunity to utilize a full set of 15 practices last spring to help prepare him for what would ultimately be baptism by fire last season.
“I think it helped me out a lot, just going in there as a freshman and really having to learn on the run and stuff,” said Dix of playing as a true freshman. “I think now it has really given me a lot more confidence. I’m more comfortable when I’m out there on the field. I’m just out there playing ball, doing what I love to do and having fun out there while I’m doing it.”
Even after a true freshman campaign in which he made five starts, and whose 45 tackles ranked third on the team, Dix is thankful for the opportunity to take advantage of this year’s spring practice period. And it could be a spring board to his 2021 season.
“I think it is definitely a big change considering we only had two days in helmets last year and then one day in pads,” Dix said earlier this week. “Now I’m going through a full spring, we are already coming up on the end of it. I think it is a pretty huge jump. Having a season of practice hasn’t really changed anything, it still feels like I’m just going out there, practicing, working on my craft, working with the team and getting better. I think we just are going out there, competing, and playing football. I’m getting better at it and I’m getting more comfortable at it.”
And while Dix looked, at times, very much like a true freshman who was forced into action too early last season, FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller believes his young middle linebacker will benefit from that experience.
“As we all know, we put a lot on Stephen Dix last year,” said Fuller last week. “And the teams weren’t going to slow down because he was in the game. And Stephen is as consistent of a person as we have in this program. And that’s not saying he’s not talented. Being consistent is a talent. Because it’s hard and you can’t take it for granted. But usually consistent people that strive to be excellent get better at a higher rate. He just had a lot of on-the-job training last year. He had some good production. But he learned through failure, learned through some success. Now, we’re going to reap those rewards for him because he’s gonna put everything into it.”
“And so just the small footwork, the understanding, the communication, that will be a year better,” continued Fuller. “I have no question about it. Not because it’s a year better, but just because of who he is, and how he’ll take that experience and learn from it. So I think he’s made good strides. He is better than he was last fall. I have no question about that.”
Coach Mike Norvell has also seen growth and maturity in Dix this off-season and throughout spring practice.
“You see the development in guys and kind of where they are,” said Norvell earlier this spring of his team and Dix. “I think about guys all across our football team, but guys like DJ Lundy, Stephen Dix, that were true freshmen last year that kind of got thrown into it. To see the growth that they’ve had through the course of the offseason, guys that we’re looking at different positions or different roles. I think through the course of the spring, we’re going to get a great understanding of who we are, the strengths and talents of what we have and continue to build towards that.”