Kalen DeBoer made a subtle statement during his opening remarks introducing UW’s latest recruiting class.
He said the program added 18 high school recruits and seven transfers.
Washington signed six players who had previously played at schools that are traditionally four-year universities via the transfer portal. The seventh, cornerback Thaddeus Dixon, joins the program from Long Beach City College in Los Angeles, California.
More commonly known as junior college.
Choosing to not differentiate specifically that the Huskies added six players through transfer, and signed a player from a junior college, is a testament to DeBoer’s character.
As the transfer portal world in college football evolves an increasing number of players that would have gone the junior college route can now just find a cozier – albeit relatively speaking – landing spot if they don’t like the situation with the school they signed with out of high school.
Even though UW has used the portal to its advantage, most notably with the infusion of quarterback Michael Penix Jr. last January from Indiana University, DeBoer and cornerbacks coach Julius Brown still went to the junior college ranks.
Similar to DeBoer’s history with Penix in 2019 at Indiana, both the Huskies head coach and cornerbacks coach Julius ‘Juice’ Brown built a relationship with Dixon while at Fresno State.
“I started talking to coach DeBoer and coach Juice back when they were at Fresno coming out “Dixon said. “I’ve been locked in with them for a cool minute.”
UW began the 2022 season with a pair of cornerback commits; Curley Reed, a four-star from Lake Charles Prep (Iowa, Louisiana), and Leroy Bryant, a three-star out of Angelo Rodriguez High School (Fairfield, California).
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The Huskies – at the time – lost out to conference rival Oregon for local Rainier Beach corner Caleb Presley in July in between Bryant and Reed making their respective commitments on July 1 and July 14.
A couple months later is when Dixon began to rekindle his connection with DeBoer and Brown, now at Washington and the Power Five level. In between when they last spoke both Thaddeus and the coaches had moved up a level, though at the Pac-12 level some coaches may not recruit a player they had at a lower level.
Not DeBoer. And definitely not Juice.
“I didn’t really start talking back to Washington since late September,” Dixon said. “But I’ve been in constant communication with coach Juice for the last two years.”
As the UW head coach broke down each individual position group before fielding questions on Wednesday when he got to the cornerbacks, he led with Dixon.
“Corner, there’s four right now, one is a transfer in Thaddeus Dixon from Long Beach City,” DeBoer said. “And the other three; Caleb Presley, Curley Reed, Leroy Bryant. I mean that is a phenomenal group. I couldn’t be more excited about what that group brings as whole.”
The Road Less Traveled
Before the invention of the transfer portal and the increasing rate to which college athletes – predominantly in football – are choosing to treat schools more as couches there was mostly the junior college route.
Players, who either were dismissed from a previous school or felt they didn’t –or wouldn’t – get a chance to play legitimate snaps in the foreseeable future would leave a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program and go to a junior college, with the goal often being to use it as a springboard to get back to the Power Five, or at least FBS, level before their eligibility ran out.
Some may have an injury during their junior or senior year in high school and have to go to a junior college to play for a year or two and then move up to the Division I level.
For Dixon, ultimately, it was a love for the game. If you want it enough and put in the work, you’ll earn a spot somewhere.
“My mentality going in was you have to do what you have to do. You’re going to have to put your head down and grind hard to really change your situation,” Dixon said.
“As I played more Juco and seeing different peoples struggles, and just seeing what it really takes to play this game, like people really loves this game. Not everybody has the opportunity to play on scholarship. I feel like it really made me appreciate the game more.
“It made me take some time to just relax and look at the little things the game has to offer, like friendships and just being a brother to a teammate.”
Dixon played both cornerback and wide receiver at La Mirada. However, like a growing number of players, he graduated in the 2020 class – the Covid class – which hampered a lot of under the radar players’ chances of being seen.
As a senior Dixon ran for 1,018 yards and 15 touchdowns on 142 carries in 10 games. He added another 110 yards receiving and 1 touchdown on 11 catches. On defense, he finished with 29 total tackles, down 35 from his junior season, a sign of opposing quarterbacks not throwing his way leading to fewer opportunities.
At Long Beach City this season Dixon finished tied for fourth on the team in tackles (42), tied for second in pass break-up’s (four), and the leader in interceptions (3) while being the only non-offensive or special teams player to score.