‘I need some closure’: BYU basketball senior Dalton Nixon looking to play football for the Cougars this fall
The 6-foot-7, 215-pounder from Orem is looking to extend his athletic career at BYU this fall with the football team — likely as a tight end.
PROVO — On Valentine’s Day eve, BYU senior forward Dalton Nixon drove to the hoop during a game at Loyola Marymount and went down hard, landing awkwardly into the stanchion and suffering a major ankle injury.
It would turn out to be his final appearance in a Cougar basketball uniform.
Nixon went through weeks of rehab and his intention was to return in time to play in the NCAA Tournament.
But a month after the injury, the Big Dance was canceled due to the spread of COVID-19. Just like that, Nixon’s college basketball career came to an unceremonious end.
“I felt like I would be ready to go for the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “I was doing everything I could to get back on the floor. I was ready to give it a shot. That’s the hard part, thinking about what could have happened.”
“I always wanted to play football growing up. But I never thought it would be a reality until now where I’ve been able to step back and look at my college career and the contributions I made on the basketball court and see how they could possibly translate on the football field.” — Dalton Nixon
But the 6-foot-7, 215-pound Orem native wants to extend his athletic career at BYU, and he is looking to join the football team this fall — likely as a tight end. There are no guarantees that he’ll earn a spot on the team but it’s a dream that he’s pursuing.
“I love to win and I love to compete. I feel like I need some closure with me going down with my injury and working my way back to play in the NCAA Tournament only for it to be canceled,” Nixon said. “This would definitely be something that would be really cool and a much sweeter ending to my career at BYU than it currently is.”
While his ankle is healed, what makes this situation even more interesting is Nixon has never played organized football before. Many of his best friends growing up played football but he didn’t, choosing instead to focus on basketball.
Eventually, Nixon wants to play basketball professionally overseas. But his wife, Taylen, will be a senior on the Cougar volleyball team next fall, so he’ll be hanging around Provo anyway. And he has one class to finish before he graduates.
“I’ve had good conversations with the coaching staff and the football team,” said Nixon, who is good friends with a pair of BYU tight ends, Matt Bushman and Kyle Griffitts. “There’s still uncertainty with the restrictions and not being able to get together and do normal workouts during a normal offseason. I’m still trying to take it day by day and keep my options open. Having this one extra year of eligibility in another sport, it’s really unheard of. You don’t see that a lot across the country, but it’s something I want to look in to. I love sports and I love BYU. If there’s an opportunity that I could do that, that’s where I’d want to hop on board.”
Certainly, Nixon’s abilities would seem to serve him well as a tight end, though BYU already has a strong stable of tight ends, headlined by Bushman, who is projected to be picked in the 2021 NFL draft.
“The skills of a basketball player that I have — good agility, good hands, good feet — would best translate to catching the ball,” he said. “That’s been the conversation that we’ve had so far. Being a tight end, that would be something I would really enjoy. Or any kind of way to contribute on the offensive end would be really cool.”
Last week, Nixon was named as BYU’s All-American Athlete of the Year Award by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. This honor recognizes Nixon’s athletic accomplishments and his dedication to strength and conditioning.
BYU basketball coach Mark Pope would love to see Nixon continue his Cougar career on the football field.
“I don’t know anything about football. But I do know this: Dalton Nixon has the heart of a lion and he has big-time hands,” Pope said. “He catches everything. Now, that’s with a round ball. This football is shaped a little differently. I assume it’s going to translate, but we’ll see. I cannot wait for this football season to hopefully see Dalton Nixon out there going to work. Can you imagine? I’d lose my mind.”
Since returning home from his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few years ago, Nixon has become known for his ability to draw charges, dive for loose balls, steal passes and play defense.
“I always wanted to play football growing up. But I never thought it would be a reality until now where I’ve been able to step back and look at my college career and the contributions I made on the basketball court and see how they could possibly translate on the football field,” he said. “It was really last offseason when I saw my body start to change. I embraced the role on this new team with the new coaching staff, working as hard as I can and giving up everything for the team and doing everything to win.
“That mindset had me thinking, ‘Maybe I could do this on the football field.’ That’s still a question that I have if I’ll be able to do it. But I feel like the experiences I had this past year got me thinking about this option.”
Because of social distancing restrictions created by the pandemic, Nixon hasn’t been able to do any official workouts, but he has been working out at the Orem High football field.
“I’m trying to take steps forward and build relationships with the guys so that if this can happen, I really want to be in a position where I can contribute in any way to help the team win,” he said. “I really respect those guys. This is a big year for the football program and that’s why I’m interested in being a part of it.”
Many people have been starving for live sports since the pandemic started in mid-March. Due to the injury he suffered in mid-February, Nixon has had to wait even longer to compete again. “I’ve been itching to play for three months now,” he said.
Before embarking on a professional basketball career overseas, Nixon is hoping to get another chance to wear a BYU uniform.