College football

JIM PETERS: Portage grad Dixon helping Fordham football make history

2013-12-04T17:00:00Z 2013-12-05T23:57:05Z JIM PETERS: Portage grad Dixon helping Fordham football make historyJim Peters james.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
December 04, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

On his five-minute walk from the Fordham campus to his student apartment, Jake Dixon blends in with the metropolitan hustle and bustle that is the Bronx, New York.

"It was a huge cultural adjustment, coming from somewhere like Portage," Dixon said. "My roommates are really cool, the team in general. That's made the transition a lot easier. I'm used to it now. You go to the city, you see every single kind of person. I've been up to a few Yankees games. It's cool to see new things."

Those new things include winning football at Fordham, where the program is still synonymous with alum Vince Lombardi, a part of the famed Seven Blocks of Granite offensive line from the 1930s, the school's golden era on the gridiron.

Over 80 years later, the 2013 Rams are writing new chapters to the history book. After capturing the Patriot League title, they set the school record in wins (12) and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs with a 37-27 victory over Sacred Heart.

"It's been truly remarkable," said Dixon, a junior strong safety. "It's great, looking back to where we were, at the lowest of lows, to the point we're at now, one of 16 teams playing for a national title, seeing all the hard work pay off. I'm just so proud of the team, what we've been through, persevering everything, and now we've put it all together."

Remarkable, in this case, isn't hyperbole. The Rams won one game in 2011, Dixon's freshman year. Coach Tom Masella was replaced by Joe Moorhead. Not interested in going through a transfer, Dixon rode out the change, confident that fortunes would improve.

He couldn't have been more right. Moorhead, a Fordham alum, led the Rams to the biggest FCS season turnaround of 2012, when they finished 6-5. Three of the losses were by a total of nine points.

"The kids really bought into our philosophy," said Moorhead, whose team travels to Towson (Md.) on Saturday. "We laid the foundation last year and took it to the next level this year."

Moorhead raised the level of expectations, heightening discipline, accountability and attention to detail.

"He's a real players' coach, they all are," Dixon said. "They never let us be satisfied after a win. We're always moving forward. I'd be lying if I said every kid thought we'd be 12-1, but we all believed we could be. There was no doubt in our mind we could be a top team in the country and contend for a national championship."

A star running back at Portage, Dixon moved to defense at Fordham, where he has started since cracking the lineup as a freshman.

"Jake's athletic ability allows him to do a very good job covering talented inside receivers," Moorhead said. "At the same time, he has his run fits (assignments) and helps our run defense. He's a great young man."

The change wasn't necessarily easy, but Dixon's more than managed. His 61 tackles rank sixth on the team.

"It's a day-to-day learning process," he said. "At safety, you've got to see everything. The hardest adjustment is you're the last line of defense. If you mess up, it's a touchdown. On offense, if you drop the ball, you get another chance to catch one. On defense, you have to seize the opportunity because you don't know when it'll happen again. The coaches put us in position to make plays."

Unlike the Florida States and Ohio States of the football world, not all Fordham players come from pedigreed programs. Like Dixon, they excelled at high schools where their teams didn't necessarily excel. That's why the Rams are basking in the glow of their success, amid New York Times and Wall Street Journal articles and the raised public awareness of the school.

"Random locals come up to you and say, 'Good job, keep it up, we're watching you,'" he said. "It's been so much fun. We're definitely soaking it all in."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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