Mixon and Monticello: A perfect fit

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2004

[11/17/04] By most accounts Von Mixon was, at best, an above-average wide receiver during his days at Vicksburg High and Hinds Community College.

He was good, totaling 69 catches for 750 yards in two seasons at Hinds, but never great enough to blow scouts away. When his career in Raymond ended, he had to do his own legwork of calling four-year schools for tryouts.

So upon signing with Arkansas-Monticello in February, both Mixon and the Boll Weevils were happy with what they were getting from the deal.

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Mixon was grateful for the scholarship and the opportunity to continue his education, while UAM needed a healthy, warm body to replace one of the five receivers it had lost from a pass-happy offense.

Neither side ever planned to turn a seemingly routine signing into recruiting gold.

Mixon turned the offense-laden Gulf South Conference on its ear this fall. In his first season at UAM, he broke the school record for receiving yards with 1,245, and set the junior record with 66 receptions.

On Monday, he capped his stellar season by being selected to the All-GSC first team.

“I really can’t grasp it, that I got this many yards and this many touchdowns,” said Mixon, who caught 12 touchdown passes and led a conference loaded with offensive-oriented teams in total yardage, with 168.1 per game. “I count it as a blessing, because I wasn’t recruited much out of high school, and I wasn’t recruited much out of junior college.”

Last winter, during the height of the recruiting season, Mixon was contemplating a future without football. Despite his efforts, he was only able to wrangle tryouts with two schools UAM and Grambling, but the Tigers showed little interest.

UAM coach Gregg Ricono thought he had a good receiver, but never expected the kind of production he got from Mixon.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat my ability to evaluate. He was a good kid, a good student,” Ricono said. “We were shopping hard. Von was a very good young man. He ended up being all we thought he would be and more.”

Arkansas-Monticello seemed a good fit for Mixon on both an athletic and academic level. When he got to the campus, though, both sides of the equation took a hit.

He changed his major from geology to land surveying. And on the field, he was too nervous to make much of an immediate impact.

Some common-sense advice from position coach Shep Campbell and a move from wideout to slot receiver changed all that.

“The first day, I was like a robot,” Mixon said. “The coach came up to me and said, just be an athlete,’ and that’s what I did.”

The move to the inside of the Boll Weevils’ passing formation and teaming up with quarterback Cory Allred, the GSC Offensive Player of the Year might have helped Mixon more. After catching just three passes for 30 yards and a touchdown in UAM’s season-opener, he made the switch before the next game and responded with a five-reception, 114-yard performance.

He caught a total of 11 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown in the next two games, then ripped off six 100-yard efforts in UAM’s last seven outings. Nine of his 12 touchdowns went for 20 yards or more.

In the one game he didn’t break the century mark, a 44-41 victory over Central Arkansas, Mixon still made a big difference. He caught four passes for 97 yards and two TDs, including a game-winning 43-yarder with 1:38 to go.

Ricono said Mixon excelled, in part, because of the attention and respect opponents paid to Allred. If defenses tried to sit back and cover the receivers, Allred had time to pick them apart. And if they blitzed the two-time GSC player of the year, Mixon was able to turn short check-off routes into big gains.

“That’s where he got all of his big yards, was on the short passes,” Ricono said. “I think Von is the kind that makes plays when he has the opportunity to make plays.”

In UAM’s last game of the season, Mixon made his own opportunities.

Heading into the showdown with Delta State, Mixon knew he was within 105 yards of the school record. He also knew he was going up against DSU receiver Ellis Debrow, a fellow All-GSC selection and one of the top receivers in all of Division II. Mixon had been following Debrow all season, comparing himself against the DSU star.

“I knew I was within reach of the record, and I knew I was going to get it,” Mixon said.

With both offenses firing on all cylinders, the result was predictable. Mixon racked up 10 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns, shattering the old record of 1,200 yards. Including kickoff returns, Mixon had 287 total yards in the game.

Delta State came away with a wild 62-41 victory. Afterward Debrow, who caught five passes for 148 yards and two TDs, showed Mixon some respect.

“Right after the game, he was like, You’re good. I ain’t going to lie.’ That’s a big compliment,” Mixon said. “I was keeping up with him all year. I was competing against him.”

With a record-setting season under his belt, Mixon has already started thinking about next year, as well as the years beyond.

The thought of playing on Sundays is suddenly a possibility, however remote, for Mixon, just a few months after he wasn’t sure if he’d get a chance to keep playing on Saturdays.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound receiver would be a longshot to make an NFL team in a couple of years, even if he wasn’t coming out of a tiny Division II school. He’ll also have to hope the Boll Weevils can find a replacement quarterback nearly as good as Allred, who threw for 7,070 yards in only two seasons as a starter.

“I know they’re going to be keying on me, so I’m going to work extra hard to do it again,” Mixon said. “We’ve got all our receivers coming back, and all we need is a quarterback to put the ball in my hands.”

Mixon doesn’t have to look far to find an example of a star D-II receiver who made the leap to pros. The man whose UAM records he broke, Derick Armstrong, is currently in his second season with the Houston Texans.

Mixon admits he has started thinking about the possibility, and plans to hit the weight room a little more this offseason. More importantly, he’ll keep hitting the books and make sure he has a degree to fall back on.

After all, wasn’t that why he went to UAM in the first place?

“I always take every game a play at a time, a game at a time. Now I look at Division II guys who have played in the NFL and it has crossed my mind. It’s a goal, but it’s a far goal. I could reach it if I have another season like I had or a better season,” Mixon said. “But that’s not my first priority. My first priority is education.”