Tried, Tested, Yet Undeterred

After overturned prison sentence, Marcus Dixon blazes a stellar record of academic and athletic achievement at Hampton University.

For Marcus Dixon, it’s all about second chances. Once a star athlete with a 3.96 grade point average at Pepperell High School in Rome, Ga., Dixon’s future looked bright as he was headed to Vanderbilt University on a full-ride football scholarship. However, in a 2003 case that inflamed racial hostilities throughout Georgia, Dixon’s life took a sharp detour when as an 18-year-old high school senior he was charged with raping a 15-year-old White classmate.

Civil rights leaders in Georgia and across the nation decried the prosecution as racially motivated, as Dixon was hit with six charges, including an aggravated child molestation charge — a felony that carried a mandatory 10-year sentence and one that had never before been applied in a case involving teen sex. Though the jury threw out most of the charges, finding that the sex was consensual, he was convicted on the molestation count and a misdemeanor statutory rape count.

In a 4-3 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the child molestation conviction in 2004 and freed Dixon as he had already served more than the one-year sentence a statutory rape conviction carries — the only charge upheld by the court. Dixon credits his faith in God for giving him hope that he’d get a second chance.

After his release, Dixon accepted a football scholarship at Hampton University and enrolled in August of 2004. While at Hampton, Dixon amassed a stellar record of achievements both on and off the football field. As a senior defensive end, he was named to the all-MEAC first team defense, finishing the regular season with 58 total tackles, two forced fumbles with a recovery, eight quarterback hurries and a blocked kick.

His record of academic achievement is as impressive as his football accomplishments, if not more so. Dixon made the Dean’s List for the fall semester and is on track to graduate with honors. Most notably, Dixon won the 2007 Outstanding Major of the Year Award, which recognizes him as the top student in Hampton University’s health and physical education program.

“I don’t know many, if I know any person, that can go to prison, come out and go to school and in one semester get a 3.7 GPA and continue to carry that success,” says Hampton football offensive line coach Terry Beauford. “This kid has taken this challenge on very seriously.”

Dixon has also taken seriously the opportunity to encourage young people to strive for excellence via community service with the Boys and Girls Club and speaking engagements at local K-12 schools. Dr. Marilyn Wells, chair of Hampton’s Department of Health and Physical Education, says Dixon serves as a good role model. “He’s proud of being a good student where sometimes students want to hide that aspect because they think it’s not cool.”

Hampton football head coach Jerry Holmes says Marcus’ determination to excel extends well beyond academics and athletics. Holmes says that before becoming head coach this year, he was responsible for helping players find jobs on campus and helped Dixon find work in Hampton’s physical plant. After workers saw how dedicated and productive a worker Dixon was, they complained to Holmes, half-jokingly.

“Other workers used to come into my office, joking around, saying, ‘You’ve got to get Marcus out of this plant. Marcus is making us look bad. He’s coming to work early, he’s working late,’” Holmes says. “Other guys working with him were impressed by how he was working away from football, away from academics.”

Dixon says his grandmother instilled within him a strong work ethic, insisting that he can’t play any sport whatsoever “unless you do your schoolwork,” Dixon recalls her telling him. “It stuck with me all the way and it was just reiterated once I got out of prison, realizing that my life was almost gone — it just made me work harder in everything I do.

“With faith in the Lord added to hard work, that allowed me to succeed in the classroom and on the field. It all connected at once when I got to Hampton, and here I am now getting ready for the NFL.”

Dixon signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys in April and before heading to training camp, he has earned one more award that recognizes him for his drive and dedication to succeed no matter what the obstacle: He has been named the Diverse 2008 Arthur Ashe Jr. Male Sports Scholar of the Year.

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