It’s nothing new to the fourth-year running back.
Growing up in Jackson, Miss., with three brothers, the San Francisco 49ers running back used backyard battles to push himself throughout his athletic career. He also made sure to stand out from his brothers with some personal flair.
With the 49ers, it’s no different.
Dixon continues to use a competitive and creative mindset entering his fourth season with the team that made him a sixth-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
“Competition made me everything I am,” the 6-foot-1, 233-pound running back said after Tuesday’s “Football School” session at team headquarters. “It just made me the person I am today. When I see other competition walk into the room, it’s really nothing. It’s been something I’ve been going through my whole life. I’m just ready to go.”
Dixon has carried the ball 120 times for 402 rushing yards and has scored six touchdowns during his three seasons with the 49ers. As part of a deep backfield group, the former Mississippi State product has always earned his carries for the 49ers. He expects it to be no different in 2013.
His most important rushing opportunity came in last year's NFC Championship game. A year after coming up short in a similar situation in the NFC title game, Dixon converted a third-and-1 by picking up four yards in the fourth quarter of San Francisco’s win over Atlanta. The third-down conversion led to a game-winning touchdown score and an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII.
Dixon thrived under the challenging circumstance not long after accepting his role as a “football player” for the 49ers. Dixon put aside his aspirations of being an every-down running back and concentrated on other aspects of the game. Last training camp he volunteered to play fullback to give the 49ers more depth at the position. He also continued exceling as a special teams coverage player and earned a spot on the 53-man roster through a determined work ethic.
“Ever since I decided to expand my role, I turned myself into a football player,” Dixon said. “I don’t like to call myself a running back or a fullback, I’m a football player, I can do whatever… I pride myself on being an all-around football player.”
When Dixon watches film these days, he’s not just looking at it from a running back’s perspective. Now, he’s studying fullback tape, special teams clips and even defensive highlights.
“I just consider myself of a football player,” he said.
The emphasis on special teams has allowed Dixon to carry out a significant role for the 49ers. He’s one of the lone holdovers from the team’s “Tony Montana Squad” special teams group and takes pride in carrying on the qualities he learned from veteran teammates like Blake Costanzo and Tavares Gooden.
“They showed us different versions of leadership,” Dixon said. “They were wild and crazy, but they were smart guys. That’s how I try to pattern myself. I know people know me as wild and outgoing, but I want them to watch film and say, ‘He’s a smart player.’ He’s got a couple years under his belt; he’s pulling veteran moves out there.”
Dixon’s special teams focus has been noticeable in offseason workouts at team headquarters. In those specialized periods of practice, Dixon relishes the opportunity to showcase the many strides he’s made in mastering the third phase of the game.
“When I came in I wanted to be a franchise running back, all-time everything, but it didn’t go that way,” Dixon said. “I just accepted it and now I pride myself on being the best football player I can.
“If they can look out on the field and say he’s still one of the best players out there, then that’s good enough for me even if I’m not the lead horse.”
Dixon, however, leads the 49ers in the style department.
NFL.com recognized the 49ers running back for having one of the most memorable hairstyles in league history in a recent photo essay. Dixon first learned of the tribute from one of his loyal Twitter followers.
“I do pride myself on style because I believe if you look good, you play good and you feel good,” said Dixon, who has long dreadlocks with blonde frosted tips these days. “It was nice that they recognized me as one of the outgoing personalities and gave me a little ranking – that was pretty cool.”
Dixon’s hair has evolved over the years much like his playing style. In his mind, there’s a good reason for the outgoing appearance.
“I never try to stay the same,” Dixon said. “I always try to get better with it.
“I believe you have to have fun, put yourself in a good mood so you can take everything that comes at you. I’m in a good mood and when adversity hits, I just deal with all of it, and at the same time, I continue to do my job.”