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LBs Nate Dixon, Ben Eaton primed to play after recovering from surgeries
Men of action don’t like to sit and watch.
Nate Dixon and Ben Eaton are linebackers – by definition men of action – who had to do just that this spring as their Lafayette College football teammates went through drills and their spring game.
A bum shoulder kept Eaton out. A torn ACL sidelined Dixon.
“It was hard to see your teammates working out, lifting at 6 a.m. – I wanted to be out there to help,” Eaton said. “That was the toughest part.”
Both Eaton, a junior middle linebacker, and Dixon, a senior outside linebacker, have fully recovered and are back in starting roles in the Leopards’ 4-3 defense during the preseason training camp which wraps up today.
But the process was not easy.
Dixon, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound product of Pennsburg, Pa., suffered the more serious injury when he tore his left ACL at Harvard on Oct. 17, 2009.
“It was a freak thing, my foot got caught in the turf and twisted and the twist was concentrated in my knee, not distributed through body,” Dixon said. “I was getting in position to make a tackle, and heard a pop. I knew right away something wasn’t good.”
Dixon had never really been injured besides a head problem that kept him sidelined in 2007 – as he noted, an almost unique event among athletes who have played football since they were eight – and was operated on three weeks later.
“(After the operation) I was walking with a straight leg brace; I was walking pretty slow,” Dixon said. “I wanted to walk as soon as I could, but it hurt to walk.”
Eaton knew what Dixon meant when he talked about wanting to get going as soon as possible.
“The hardest part of rehab is being patient,” said the 6-foot, 225-pound Eaton.
Eaton hurt his left shoulder in practice last fall but toughed out the season, playing all 11 games, despite the inconvenience and pain.
“I was chomping at the bit to play football,” said Eaton, who sat out all of 2008 with an injury.
But the shoulder wound up needing surgery in January and that kept Eaton, an international economics and commerce major, out of spring and in the rehab room.
“Rehab was a lot of work,” he said. “But you have to start really light. I was started out on one- and two-pound weights. You don’t want too much stress. You’ve got to take it slow. You try not to get too overexcited; you stay calm, focus on the team, the treatment and the therapies.”
Dixon, a government and law major, was learning the same lesson as he made the way back from November knee surgery.
“It was difficult,” he said. “You have got to take small steps and you don’t want to rush and set yourself back. I had to be careful.”
Some mechanical help gave Dixon a boost, if at the same time raising an issue of its own.
“After the surgery I was working on getting my mobility back through flexing and extending the leg,” Dixon said. “They gave me a machine that moves your leg for you as you sleep; it rotates your leg. It was hard to sleep, but I got my mobility back.”
While neither Eaton nor Dixon enjoyed missing the spring, Lafayette head coach Frank Tavani said it was perhaps less important for them than for less experienced players.
“I think it matters more the younger you are; for freshmen, the spring is very important,” he said. “I think by the time you’re a junior, you’re more established and can afford to miss the spring. It’s never good to miss 15 practices but it didn’t set them back. They are in great shape.”
Perhaps in even better shape.
“I think I can actually run better after the injury, especially in changing direction,” Dixon said. “The rehab gave my legs a break from squatting (lifts) and let them loosen up a little bit. I was doing things in rehab I would not have normally done – working on a spherical ball set on a flat surface to get my balance and mobility back and I wouldn’t have done that unless I was injured.”
Getting going on the field proved pretty easy.
“We had some live hitting segments and my doctor at home told me I can’t think about (the shoulder),” Eaton said. “I got my first hit and I was fine.”
“By the time I stepped back for real I was fine,” Dixon said. “If I felt any hesitation about the knee it was in the summer workouts. My surgeon was Dr. Michael Ciccotti, (of Philadelphia’s) Rothman Institute; he did the surgery on Brad Lidge. He was really optimistic and that gave me a lot of confidence.”
Now, fully healed and ready to go, the two linebackers look forward to leading the young Leopards into the season that opens at home with Patriot League foe Georgetown on Sept. 11.
“I truly love the game of football,” Eaton said. “I’ve been playing since I was five and learned everything from my (late) dad, Ben Sr., who was the coach at Dunbar in Baltimore. This year, we just want to finish, finish tackles, finish plays. Every rep we just have to get better and focus on one rep at time, one step at a time, especially with a young team; we really need to keep out focus.”
Eaton focuses on calling the defenses and stopping the run; Dixon, as he put it. “funnels the ball” toward others though he’s perfectly ready to tackle.
“I like to hit people,” Dixon said.
Tavani knows how much the two want to return to action.
“These guys are hungry,” he said.
Hungry for hitting, not watching.
“I think I can actually run better after the injury, especially in changing direction,” said Dixon, who had surgery to fix the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. “The rehab gave my legs a break from squatting (lifts) and let them loosen up a little bit. I was doing things in rehab I would not have normally done, (such as) working on a spherical ball set on a flat surface to get my balance and mobility back and I wouldn’t have done that unless I was injured.”
Lafayette College linebackers Nate Dixon, Ben Eaton primed to play after recovering from surgeries
By BRAD WILSON, The Express-Times