At this time last year, it seemed Johnnie Dixon's football future was in jeopardy.
In his first three years at Ohio State, Dixon had just seven catches for 55 yards and five rushes for 20. Once a promising high school speedster coming out of Florida, Dixon's Buckeye career was marred by nagging leg injuries, keeping him sidelined more than he was available.
“He's a very highly recruited guy out of Dwyer High School, a very talented guy, nice person,” Urban Meyer recalled of Dixon last spring. “But he got here, had this tendonitis and issues in his knees, and he would go two practices and have to miss two.”
After re-injuring himself once again during the team's game against Michigan State during the 2016 season, Dixon admitted to feeling – like many others had speculated – he would never be healthy and his playing days might be over.
"Honestly, I kinda had that feeling at the Fiesta Bowl," Dixon said. "I felt like it might be over from here. But I got back in town and a couple weeks went by and I was just thinking about it and I was like 'why not give it another shot?'"
"I fought through it. I think my story talks for itself. I never gave up, even though I was on the verge."– Johnnie Dixon
He didn't give up. Dixon came back to practice in the spring, intent on staying healthy and playing up to his potential for the first time in his career – and that's exactly what happened.
Dixon turned heads all throughout spring practice, earning praise from Urban Meyer, J.T. Barrett, Billy Price and Zach Smith. A few weeks later, he proved their words weren't just puffery, exploding for six Catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the team's spring game.
He continued his rise over the next few months, progressing through summer until he was named one of six starting receivers for the team's opener against Indiana. After months of hard work, he didn't disappoint when he finally got under the lights.
Late in the third quarter, Dixon exploded for a 59-yard touchdown catch and run, showcasing his breakaway speed and playmaking ability really for the first time at Ohio State.
"It felt great. I could hear my mom yelling in my head all the way in Florida," Dixon said after the game. "It was definitely a great feeling. It has been a long process and hard work. There were a lot of things put into that."
That play was the first of Dixon's most productive season as a Buckeye, where he finished with 18 catches for 422 yards and eight touchdowns – leading the team in touchdown receptions.
Dixon went from the low point of his career all the way to the top – and it all began with a quality spring.
As Ohio State heads into spring practice this season, there are undoubtedly some players in a similar position to Dixon's last spring, whether they've been hampered by injuries or have simply found themselves buried on the depth chart, with little hope of climbing to the top.
But Dixon is proof that despite those circumstances, you don't have to stay there forever, and a quality spring could be the catalyst for a breakout season.
"I would say believe it. I fought through it. I think my story talks for itself," Dixon said after his breakout game against Indiana. "I never gave up, even though I was on the verge."