It's up to Gerald

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

It has been a long time since Gerald Dixon has had a consistent and prominent starting role on any football team.

The clock has to be turned back nearly four years to find the last time Dixon was a major player.

It was the fall of 2002 in Alabama, where Dixon was a senior defensive back on one of the stingiest and nastiest defences in American college football.

But after four years of bouncing around teams on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, Dixon has a chance to be a huge part of the Edmonton Eskimos' defence.

With outstanding SAM-linebacker Steven Marsh on the sidelines indefinitely with a knee injury, Dixon has the job in his hands.

It's his to keep or lose - but so far, he's handling the brand new assignment in fine style.

"He played very well (last week in Calgary)," said defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell. "He played well enough for us to win."

It's a feel-good story considering nothing has been easy since the start of his final year in college.

PROMINENT BOWL GAME

Dixon was projected to be a fourth-round NFL draft pick, but couldn't shine on the national stage in a prominent bowl game - even though Alabama was ranked fifth in the nationwide polls in 2002 - because the school was on probation.

"We had recruiting violations and some more stuff that they (the school) told me I can't talk about," said Dixon.

The lack of visibility probably hurt him that year.

"A couple of us that should have got drafted, didn't get drafted," said Dixon, who was an all-conference player.

The snub at the draft meant he was eventually a free-agent pick up by the Detroit Lions in 2003, but was cut.

He ventured across the Atlantic to NFL Europe, but barely had time to have a cup of coffee with the Scottish Claymores before he was gone.

SMALL PAYCHEQUE

The Buffalo Bills then took a shot at him in 2004, but he lasted less than two months.

He was finally able to get some sort of a small pay cheque last year in the CFL, starting six games in the secondary in the regular season for the Eskimos.

But he didn't dress for the playoffs or the Grey Cup and came to training camp this spring with no job security.

"When I came to camp, I was a long shot to make the team," admitted Dixon.

But when the Esks moved Shannon Garrett to his old halfback spot to start the regular season last week in place of Donald Brady, the SAM-linebacker job was suddenly handed to Dixon.

At 5-10 and 192 pounds, he's tiny to be a linebacker, but in reality, the SAM position is essentially a defensive back covering quick receivers in wide-open field 80% of the time - and Dixon has speed to burn.

He actually ran the 100-metre dash in high school in a blazing 10.35 seconds, the second-fastest high-school clocking that year in Maryland.

And his family has incredible genes.

"I have two cousins that qualified for the Olympics and two other ones that finished as silver medallists in the 4x100 relay (for Jamaica)," said Dixon.

But most importantly for the 25-year-old import, he can really lock down receivers.

"He has a tremendous amount of ability," said receiver Ed Hervey.

"The Esks are just hoping that ability shines through the whole year.


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