At Arizona State’s spring practices, one watcher frequently has joked that Mike Nixon will soon be the first player in college football history to snap, hold and kick an extra point — all at the same time.
That is a slight exaggeration of the versatility of the 22-year-old freshman, but there have been few places on the field Nixon’s cleats have not tread in the Sun Devils’ workouts.
Nixon, a former professional baseball player who has walked on at ASU, started the spring at safety but recently moved to middle linebacker. He also has tried field goals, can punt and is an option at quarterback, a position he starred in while in high school.
“It really is fun,” Nixon said of his Mr.-Everything reputation. “The most important thing for me when I came back was to be on the field. Whatever position that may be, I’m going to do my best to play as much as I can.”
At first glace, the move to linebacker appears inspired by the paucity of healthy bodies ASU has there this spring. But the coaching staff feels that Nixon, who has bulked up to 220 pounds since joining the team, is better suited at that position.
“He’s making plays all over the field,” ASU coach Dirk Koetter said. “He’s on all our special teams. He’s an older guy, has a lot of savvy in him and understands the game. The thing about Mike Nixon is that he’s just a ballplayer. He’s an old-fashioned ballplayer.”
After graduating from Phoenix Sunnyslope, Nixon toiled in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system. His playing pro baseball prohibits him from receiving a scholarship, but he will pay for school via education funds earmarked in his Dodgers contract.
“I don’t regret my decision to play football,” Nixon said. “Physically, it’s much rougher day to day, but the a full baseball season is a mental grind. They both are strenuous in their own way.”
When the backup punter leaves practice on crutches — as Chris MacDonald did on Tuesday after injuring his foot in a punt drill — injuries are beginning to take their toll.
For a while, Koetter was worried that the Sun Devils might not be able to fill two teams for Saturday’s spring game.
“When you practice as hard as our guys have, you are going to get some guys banged up,” he said. “There has been some good hitting. We could come out here and play touch, and fewer guys would get hurt. But we wouldn’t get better.”
The walking wounded include offensive linemen Stephen Berg, Zach Krula, Brandon Rodd and J.D. Walton, running back Preston Jones, defensive linemen Will Kofe, Kyle Caldwell, Loren Howard and Tranell Morant, linebacker Beau Manutai and defensive backs Chad Green, Troy Nolan and Keno Walter-White.
Quarterbacks Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter will be the offensive captains and safeties Josh Barrett and Zach Catanese defensive captains for the maroon-white spring game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.
The captains draft the teams, and the contest will be a regular game format with kicking situations, a running clock and set number of drives for each quarter. Though the draft went ahead as planned on Thursday, the game format could change before kickoff, depending on ASU’s injury situation.
“We’re razor-thin at some positions,” Koetter said. “I’m nervous about a couple of positions.”
During the spring game, voluntary donations will be accepted for the Angelo Richardson Fund. Richardson, a junior-college All-American receiver who signed with the Sun Devils in February, was shot last month and still has no feeling in his legs.
Richardson, 21, is rehabilitating at a Vallejo, Calif., hospital.