Riley Dixon plays football with flair, a perfect manifestation of his joie de vivre. You see it in his running, the creativity with which he makes his moves and the defiance he has toward those who dare to intercept his path.
You see it in his interactions with teammates or walking the halls of school. If only we could all look at the world through Riley Dixon-colored glasses.
“I think he just loves life and making people happy,” said Riley’s father, Bryan Dixon.
Dixon, a second-team all-state selection, is the most prominent returning player for three-time defending champion Regina. He was the rushing game last year, running 230 times for 1,641 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 126 yards and one TD.
“He’s obviously a dynamic guy when he’s got the ball in his hands,” Regina coach Marv Cook said. “There’s a lot of flash to it with his moves. He plays with emotion. That’s part of what makes him a great player.
“He’s got pretty darn good hands. He’s a pretty darn good receiver and a pretty solid route runner.”
Cook paints a picture of a guy who is a lot more than a ball carrier. And Dixon is. He’s elusive and can take that talent from the backfield and into the slot to create a matchup problem for the defense. Get the ball to him and he’ll make a play.
“I kind of like to stay away from the backers, especially on the outside zone stuff,” he said. “Get outside and make them miss and see what happens. Last year I got some great blocking from Alex Balke and Matt Streb, but all the credit goes to the O-line every year.”
He’s also a clutch player who rises to the occasion in big games.
“He’ll constantly try new stuff, which is one of the things we emphasize. We want to put guys in positions where they are uncomfortable,” Cook said. “That’s how they’ll grow and improve on their weaknesses. He’s always been a guy that was a risk taker or would get out of his comfort zone to try.”
Dixon is ready for the huge challenge facing his senior class. In fact, he seems to relish the opportunity for his class to join those who’ve made Regal history. The team goal is paramount with Dixon, even as the squad’s most decorated returning player.
He wants to see the underclassmen take advantage of their opportunities to learn as he did and extend the lineage of championships.
“When I was a freshman I got to see (former all-stater) Anthony Halsch run the ball, Jacob Vollstedt and Berkley Grimm run the ball,” Dixon said. “That was a huge, huge advantage to me because I could see what holes they picked, what cut they made, read the defense the way they do. It’s a huge advantage to have great guys in front of you.”
He downplays his role, saying all it takes to be a good running back is “a brain.”
“The play is more just reading it; last year anybody could have played running back. I was just lucky enough to play,” Dixon said. “The holes were amazing.”
He wants to improve his reads so he can hit the hole as close to full speed as possible. He also mentioned improving his pass blocking by using his quick first step to generate speed toward the intended victim.
“Just going up to the line and really hitting somebody,” he said with a smile. “Just stay low and give them a first good punch. Last year at the beginning of the year I didn’t do a good job of it at all. I was awful.”
His dad said Riley is his own biggest critic, thinking that any mistake has let down his teammates or his coaches. But his natural demeanor seems to enable him to bounce back.
He wants to be one of the team leaders, but he is confident that the rest of the senior class is ready to do the same, particularly when it comes to nurturing the younger players.
“I think he feels like he owes it to the Regina community because there are so many younger kids that look up to him,” Bryan Dixon said. “He spends a lot of time in the hallways talking to them and going out of his way to give them a jersey or a necklace.”
Riley would like to play some defense this year, but Cook is wary of using him too much. He wants to preserve those legs and that flair.