Looking across the line of scrimmage at 6-foot-5, 327-pound left guard Marques Pair and 6-foot-8, 300-pound left tackle Dontavius Blair, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Mixon felt somewhat small. He was about to feel even smaller.
“It was about the third practice of spring, and I probably got drove 10 yards downfield by Marques and Dontavius,” Mixon said, rolling his eyes at the recollection. “That really was an eye-opener.”
Being driven backwards by 627 pounds of sweaty humanity was not a fun introduction to Big Orange football. Mixon has persevered, however, and these days finds himself challenging for a role in Tennessee’s defensive line rotation. Now packing 275 pounds, he is filling a swing role – still playing some defensive end but mostly lining up at tackle. He admits being less than thrilled when coaches came to him last spring and asked him to move inside.
“At first I was a little skeptical about it,” he recalled. “After I made the switch and put a little weight on, though, I think it was one of the best moves they could’ve done for me. It made me more versatile – playing inside and outside. I think in the long run it’s one of the best moves I could’ve done.”
Dimarya (pronounced duh-mar-EE-yay) is still 20-25 pounds lighter than most SEC defensive tackles but he finds that more of an incentive than a negative.
“Me being a stronger guy, if I can overpower those bigger guys it will let people know what type of player I am,” he said. “If you’re smaller and dominating inside, that really says something about you.”
Still, he realizes that a good big man normally beats a good little man. As a result, Mixon continues to work on gaining weight for the trench warfare in his future.
“In the spring I was about 265, and now I’m about 275,” he said. “I got up to 283 but I’ve ended up losing some weight in camp. I’m trying to get back up now.”
When a guy is facing blockers the size of Marques Pair and Dontavius Blair, every pound of resistance he can offer is a blessing.
“It helps a lot against those double-teams,” Mixon said. “When you’ve got those 300-pounders coming at you the weight really helps me to sit in there and take on double-teams. Also, the weight room has helped me get stronger.”
“Jordan was my Big Brother when I got here, so I’ve tried to work with him as much as possible — out of practice and in practice,” Mixon said. “He keeps my head up. He’s had a little experience in there (tackle), and that has helped him help me.”
Nothing has helped Mixon more, however, than the head start he got by enrolling in time to participate in spring practice.
“I feel like spring was my freshman season,” he said. “I was going against those guys in the offensive line, and they’ve gotten a lot better since I got here, so I think they’ve gotten me ready.”
Rated a three-star prospect by Scout, Mixon recorded 49 tackles in 2012 as a senior at West Mesquite High School in Mesquite, Texas. He signed with Nebraska in February of 2013 but failed to qualify. He met the admission standards while sitting out the 2013 season, then signed with Tennessee last December.
Naturally, Mixon is thrilled to get back on the field after missing a full season of football.
“It was a little stressful at times,” he conceded. “My parents and everybody told me it was going to pay off, though. Now that it’s here I’m really excited about it. Sitting out has made me even hungrier.”
After practicing against Tennessee’s offensive linemen all spring and midway through preseason camp, Mixon is understandably eager to line up against someone not wearing orange.
“I’m really looking forward to playing against other people now,” he said, “and seeing how I hold up.”
Odds are he’ll hold up a lot better than he did against Marques Pair and Dontavius Blair last March.