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February 1, 2012TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama may have enrolled eight only eight new football players in January, but there are nine who already feel like they are a part of the program.
Add Yamari Dixon, the older brother of UA signee Travell Dixon, even if he'll never get to put on an Alabama helmet.
Travell Dixon, a transfer from Eastern Arizona Community College, revealed Wednesday that his brother's football was ended by a gunshot wound. And as the older sibling who originally encouraged Travell to give football a try, Yamari has taken a special interest in following Travell's career.
"My brother played free safety at the University of Akron, and due to him getting shot, his career was ended. He's living through me right now," Travell Dixon said.
Travell hadn't played a down of football at Miami Norland High entering his senior year there, and only played at the behest of Yamari. Because he played for only one year, he had no scholarship offers from Division-I schools despite leading the Dade County area in interceptions with seven in his only prep season.
"He knew how good I could be. Growing up as a child, going back to pre-school, they would ask what I wanted to do when I grew up and I told them a firefighter," Dixon said. "He told me, 'Don't tell them that. Tell them a football player.'"
Dixon said his brother was shot in the abdomen while celebrating in Cleveland what was expected to be the next step in his football career - the Canadian Football League.
"Wrong timing," Dixon said. "Got shot, and was paralyzed for three months. He's living through me now. It happened three years ago. Now he's better - he's walking, he can run, and we train together. We do a lot of things together now. It's a testimony story. ... (The bullet) went somehow, in and out, but by the grace of God he's here."
Once at Eastern Arizona C.C., however, Dixon quickly developed a reputation as one of the top cover men in the junior college ranks.
"Travell is a guy who we thought was one of the best junior college corners out there," said UA coach Nick Saban.
Given his limited background of only three years in the sport, Dixon might benefit as much or more than any of the eight signees who enrolled early and will participate in spring drills, months before the majority of the signing class gets to begin practicing. Joining Dixon is another junior college transfer cornerback in Deion Belue, and both are stepping into a defensive backfield that lost two key cornerbacks in Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. Dixon, in fact, said he got to know Menzie in part because both were junior college transfers, and he thought he could have similar success as Menzie, who was a two-year starter and is now an NFL Draft prospect.
Other early enrollers are linebacker Ryan Anderson, nose guard Alphonse Taylor, running back T.J. Yeldon, wide receivers Chris Black and Amari Cooper and linebacker Dillon Lee. Each will get a chance to compete for playing time, but as Saban noted, it is the players who display the most maturity who will have the best opportunity to do so. That begins with offseason workouts, under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, that are already underway.
"Man, the guy is intense," said Taylor, who said he weighs 360 pounds. "He leads some of the craziest workouts ever. He's very intense. But that's what you have to expect out of one of the top programs in the nation. You just have to expect to come in and want to be pushed to be better. He's great at what he does."
Black said the early enrollers already are bonding as teammates, working out together, and most of all, encouraging one another.
Yamari Dixon, for one, is rooting for little brother -- he'd like nothing more than to experience what Travell will go through in the coming two years. And Travell, for his part, doesn't want to see anyone else experience what his brother has been through.
"You've just got to watch the friends who you're with," Travell said. "That's the message I want to send to little kids - know your surroundings."
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.