West Virginia might have caught lightning in a bottle when it brought on linebacker Lance Dixon.
Seldom does a team add a freshman transfer to its roster. Even more infrequently does that addition finish top-10 on the team in tackles in his first year, especially if he missed part of the season due to injury.
Dixon is now a leader on the defense in his second season at West Virginia, and with a year under his belt, he is more confident in his place on the field.
“There’s definitely a comfort level. It’s also experience,” Dixon said. “Having four years of game experience is definitely a plus. It takes some guys a little longer, I guess it just took a little longer for me.”
Like many transfers, his current status as a redshirt sophomore comes with a slight asterisk. While he started his career at WVU as a redshirt freshman, he already had two years of game experience dating back to his true freshman season at Penn State in 2019. He redshirted that season but appeared in three games.
Dixon’s playing time as a Nittany Lion increased in 2020, earning a start that year as a redshirt freshman. That season, however, didn’t count against his eligibility due to the NCAA’s COVID relief. So when he arrived in Morgantown in the summer of 2021, he still had a full four years of eligibility. He also found a defensive scheme that better fit his style of play as a converted safety.
“I’d say I just run a lot more, being able to open up and show my speed a little more out there,” Dixon said. “Plus, being able to move quicker, being able to move guys out the way. Having more options out there.”
Dixon ended 2021 on a high note, logging his best game of the season in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl with 11 tackles, leading the game in that category. He hopes to turn that into a launching point for his first season as a full-time starter at bandit.
Weeks ahead of the season, it seems he’s poised to do that, as he has even impressed his coaches so far in fall camp.
“I like where Lance Dixon — this has been his best camp out of two years,” said WVU linebackers coach Jeff Koonz. “Much better understanding of his techniques within the scheme, where it fits, how it fits, where he needs to be on each play and he’s made a lot more plays because of it.”
The former defensive back also hopes to thrive in WVU’s defense this season, which he called the “fastest defense I’ve been around.” Dixon returns alongside some returning stars like cornerback Charles Woods and defensive lineman Dante Stills, so the framework of an already-successful unit was already in place.
Dixon also has to work in tandem with some newer guys, like energetic mike linebacker Lee Kpogba, who brings a new layer of leadership to the defense. Even though he hasn’t played a game for the Mountaineers yet, Kpogba is already making Dixon’s jobs as a leader and player easier.
“In terms of speed, I think we’ve got that,” Dixon said. “We just need to dot our i’s and cross our t’s and be good with that, we’ll be alright this year.”