Game over? ASU's Nixon ready either way - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Game over? ASU's Nixon ready either way

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Posted: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 4:27 pm | Updated: 2:05 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

On Saturday morning, Mike Nixon will do the same thing he's done 371 times since his high school graduation: Arrive at the stadium, throw on his jersey and head out to the field.

For eight years, it's the only job he's known.

The first game of this journey began as an 18-year-old in 2002, on a baseball diamond for the Rookie League Great Falls Dodgers, next to current major leaguers Jonathan Broxton, James Loney and Delwyn Young.

The minor league baseball tour lasted four years.

Game No. 323 was in 2006, the first on the collegiate gridiron with the Arizona State football team, next to current NFL players Zach Miller, Rudy Carpenter and Josh Barrett.

Saturday's game against Arizona will be No. 372, and quite possibly, the last.

For the first time in his adult life, Nixon might be staring at a job that isn't predicated on wins and losses.

With one game still remaining, he's not ready to look back yet.

"Right now, you're kind of caught up in the season, the grind, just getting in your routine," he said. "So you don't really reflect on that right now."

But on Sunday, the decision-making wheels begin to turn.

If the NFL comes calling, Nixon, of course, wouldn't turn that down.

The linebacker leads the Sun Devils with 65 tackles and has three interceptions, three forced fumbles and a punt block.

He doesn't have the physical gifts of a typical NFL player - or even many of his teammates, for that matter - but the mental edge always seems to have Nixon in the right place at the right time.

If not the NFL, then surely Nixon could stick in a lower-tier professional league.

But he's been through that already.

He shot up to Triple-A in the Dodgers organization, but after a year of scuffling, knew his talents were not enough to reach the big leagues. So he gave up baseball for college football.

Now, four years later, he could be facing a similar scenario.

"I can look at it realistically," Nixon said. "If someone tells me it's a one-in-a-million shot to stick with an NFL team, then I feel comfortable with the other options I do have in my life. I'm not going to go on a wild goose chase just because I have that competitive itch."

His off-field options seem numerous.

Nixon has a 4.07 grade point average in political science and has plans to go to law school after his playing career is over.

On Tuesday, he was named an ESPN first-team Academic All-American, the only player from the Pac-10 to garner that honor.

"He's going to be successful in whatever he does," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "He might be a senator or a judge. He might be the president of the United States."

For a player whose career has lasted longer than all but the smallest percentage of athletes, it's no surprise Nixon wants to be involved in sports after his playing days.

His goal is to become a player agent or work for a professional team in some capacity.

It would seem to fit him well. Even now, Nixon is looked upon more as a mentor by the younger Sun Devils than a teammate.

"I talk to him about girls, about life," sophomore linebacker Brandon Magee said. "He's my roommate, so we have a lot of time to talk. We talk about baseball, football. ... He'll be successful in anything he does. He's just a tough guy."

Erickson, who has been coaching for 39 years, is unabashed in his praise.

"I don't know that I've ever been around one like him," Erickson said. "He's so smart."

And if Nixon switches gears to become a trial lawyer, he's already got one client.

"I'd hire him if I needed someone to defend me," Erickson said.

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