MARYVILLE, Mo. — Brandon and Brian Dixon didn’t envision this stage for themselves, and they’ve taken some time to adjust.
Where the twin brothers grew up, Division II football doesn’t register on the stardom radar.
“It’s kind of a blessing,” said Brandon Dixon, one half of No. 12 Northwest Missouri State’s junior college cornerback talent grab. “Having him here with me, I feel more comfortable around here. He’s my second me.“
Raised in Margate, Fla., which is tucked in alongside prep football hotbeds such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami, the Dixon twins grew up in a football-fueled scene where Division I scholarships and NFL contracts are old hat.
Even at their high school — Deerfield Beach — Brian and Brandon saw a defensive end
(Jason Pierre-Paul) rise from high-upside prospect to one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers with the New York Giants and watched as quarterback Denard Robinson (Michigan) dizzied Big Ten defenses for three years.
Several other teammates and friends signed those coveted documents, creating a top-tier advancement onus on the aspiring athletes whose family was already immersed in NFL culture. Two of the Dixons’ cousins, including former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Benny Sapp, played professionally.
Brian and Brandon received numerous offers to join their former teammates in Division I, but grade issues continually halted them before ultimately re-routing them.
“It became frustrating because I just kept asking myself, ‘Why does this keep happening to me?’ All my friends are achieving their goals at Division Is, getting votes for Heismans,’” Brian Dixon said.
The shortcomings allowed the brothers’ perpetual partnership to persist.
Instead of divergent paths at FBS programs, the Dixons wound up at Division II power Northwest (2-1, 1-1 MIAA) where they’ve already displayed ability to elevate the Bearcats’ defense while lining up opposite each other at times.
“There was a lot of expectations (in high school),” Brian Dixon said. “Our coaches knew we were very talented, but in Florida, you got a lot of people that’s good.
“We blended in a lot.”
Playing together since the Pop Warner level, Brandon and Brian often shared the field and nearly every life experience but never the same position until junior college.
Both profiled as utility performers at Deerfield Beach, filling in while Robinson led the team to a state-semifinal finish as a junior in 2007. Miami (Ohio) courted both twins out of high school.
However, the academic issues began to unveil
The twins transferred to Joliet (Ill.) Junior College due to a connection with a coach and each flanked the starting defense at cornerback en route to earning all-conference praise and this time drawing a slew of major-college interest.
Current Big 12 schools West Virginia and Kansas State threatened to divide the duo for the first time; each committed on visits, Brandon (six
interceptions as a sophomore at Joliet) to West Virginia and Brian to Kansas State.
Once again, the path’s door closed when Brandon’s SAT scores weren’t accepted and Brian needed more credits to begin his upperclassman years in Manhattan, Kan.
The rejection nearly broke Brandon, bringing him to tears. Brian now views the brothers’ football-or-bust attitude growing up as a mistake.
“There was a lot of pressure of us focusing on football because that’s all my family knows is football,” Brian Dixon said. “There was a lot of pressure to be the best we could be with football and not focusing on school, which I regret. I wish I would’ve focused on school more.”
Northwest only entered the picture when Brandon’s Joliet coach again intervened.
The 22-year-old then backed out of a visit with Grand Valley State in seeking the best possible Division II program. The Lakers and Bearcats have each played in five national championship games since 2002 with the Michigan-based school winning four titles to Northwest’s one (2009).
“I don’t know that we had to do a huge sell job,” Northwest defensive coordinator Rich Wright said of wooing Brandon. “The nice thing is that this program sells itself a little bit because of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Rather than further delay a place at a four-year school by taking summer classes to comply with
Kansas State, Brian joined his brother, and the Bearcats basically received a clone of a cornerback they pinned atop the depth chart after the spring session.
Northwest lost four corners — technically five since Travis Manning now plays safety — from its five-man rotation last season, including MIAA freshman of the year Bryce Enyard (ineligible). The position in a pass-first conference appeared considerably weakened but now seems stronger than in 2011 when the Bearcats struggled in big games to contain receivers.
Wright said the 6-foot, 195-pound Dixons’ physical style allows Northwest to attack quarterbacks compared to more vanilla schemes deployed much of last year.
“You can put them out on an island and forget about them,” Northwest senior safety Nate DeJong said. “We don’t have to worry about them on the outside. We can send the house and still play man coverage.”
Brian (one interception) serves as Northwest’s nickelback currently since he’s four months behind Brandon in system knowledge. A starter alongside redshirt-freshman Tyshaan Alleyne, Brandon, who didn’t play cornerback until college, has six pass deflections and three picks — tied with a dozen others atop the Division II leaderboard.
Each already has a touchdown — Brandon on an opening-night interception return to seal a win against East Central, Brian on a punt-block recovery in last week’s romp past Fort Hays State — and has added essential firepower to the Bearcats’ third level.
Each still hopes to join his Florida friends in the NFL, even though that leap from the MIAA is rare. But remaining together and poised to thrive in a third state might be satisfying enough.
“You have good ballplayers in south Florida, but there’s a lot of guys that don’t make it out of there,” Brian said. “They give up; they lose hope; they get caught up in the streets and all that.
“(Having a twin) kept us motivated and kept our heads positive to keep this dream alive.”