It has been about 46 years since he last stepped on the turf of Phenix Municipal Stadium as a player – and fewer and fewer people will recognize his name. He is Earnest Nathaniel Dixon, a former quarterback for the Central High Red Devils, who graduated in 1974.
He was a four-year letterman for the Red Devils in football. He was the back-up for Rod Harrelson in 1971, a senior. He teamed up with the senior signal caller on Friday, November 6, 1970, to tally the most points ever put on the scoreboard by Central – 75. Central won the game 75-28 over the Eufaula Tigers. The duo also teamed up to throw the most touchdown passes in a game with six. Harrelson threw five while Dixon managed to put the last one into the end zone.
After that game, that season, the future looked bright for the Red Devils. But as things happen from time to time, things did not get as good as expected. Central’s coach, Frank Sadler, led the Red Devils to a 3-6-1 record in 1970. In 1971, the Red Devils’ record improved to 7-3. The success Central had in 1971 was due to a bevy of young running backs joining with Dixon to pile up yardage against their opponents. The Red Devils took half the season finding out what type of team they wanted to be and the second half being that team. Central was 2-3-1 in the first half and 5-0 in the second half.
Dixon led Central to its fourth victory in a row over Carroll-Ozark in what would become a six-game winning streak over the Eagles. They defeated the new Selma High for the first time ever in a 10-8 squeaker that followed. Up next was Central’s biggest rivalry game against Columbus and a 26-6 victory, only the school’s third victory over the Blue Devils in 10 years. Central defeated another rival – Opelika – next 32-18 and finished the season with a 40-14 victory over Eufaula.
After the season, Sadler bolted for Austin High in Decatur and took a promising sophomore running back – Keith McIntyre – with him. In three seasons in Decatur, Sadler’s teams had a combined record of 8-21-1. He returned to the area in 1975 to again coach high school football, but at Kendrick High in Columbus, not at Central.
With Sadler gone, Central and Dixon began their first – and last – season with Pete Jenkins as head coach. Perhaps it was the offensive system Jenkins, a defensive line coach for nearly all of his 54 years of coaching, did not get the results everyone expected after a 7-3 season. Central dropped to 2-7-1. Its only wins came against Carroll-Ozark and Opelika.
As Dixon prepared for his senior season, he and the Red Devils faced another coaching change – enter Wayne Trawick. The Red Devils were starting the season with Auburn. The Red Devils did not get a win in Trawick’s first game, but they did not lose either. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. The next two times Dixon and his teammates took the field, they got wins over Carver of Columbus 20-0 and Spencer of Columbus 26-0. That was three shutouts in a row. Dixon almost led Central to victories in the next two games, but the Red Devils fell short 14-7 to Columbus and 14-8 to Dothan. The next game was a loss to Jeff Davis. But, Dixon rallied his team to four straight wins to finish the season. Central beat Enterprise 14-7, Baker of Columbus 14-6, Sidney Lanier 20-10 and Jordan of Columbus 36-0. Central finished the season 6-3-1. Dixon and his teammates had set the foundation for Central’s future under Trawick, who would remain at the school until after the 1997 season.
Dixon was an All-Bi-City First Team selection, the team’s Golden Helmet winner and was Mr. Central during his senior year. He left Central with four letters in football and four in track. He signed to continue his football career at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.
At Southern, Dixon played in a two-quarterback system that used both the Wishbone and Veer offenses. They called the system the “Dash and Dart” offense. Dixon, the runner at quarterback, was the “Dash” while his teammate, a passer, was the “Dart” in the offense. Dixon played well enough his first season to earn the team’s Freshman MVP award. The first time Dixon touched the football at Southern, he scored on a 40-yard run.
The next year, Dixon guided his team to the Pelican Bowl to play South Carolina. Southern won the bowl game 15-12. Dixon helped Southern to the SWAC championship that season. The first three season at Southern, Dixon was a part of teams that went 8-3, 9-3 and 8-3. In his senior season, Dixon suffered a season-ending injury in the third game. His college football career was over.
Dixon was scheduled for a tryout with the Atlanta Falcons that never occurred because of another injury as he trained for the opportunity. So, his football career was really over. He then began his working career at General Motors and raised a family with his wife of two boys and a girl. He had a son that played for Central under his last high school coach.
The football player, who apparently has been forgotten over the years, deserving of a spot in the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame is Earnest Nathaniel Dixon – Central’s first African American quarterback. Maybe this column will act as a reminder and get Earnest’s name called when the CVSHOF holds its next induction ceremony.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.