By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — What a difference a year makes.
This time last year Eagle’s Landing’s Devin Dixon emerged on the scene from nowhere as a top track athlete in the 800 meters. He solidified that reputation by winning a state championship in the event as a sophomore, during his first year running on the varsity level.
He remembers how he felt then, after crossing the finish line. It was euphoria. Excitement. He posed for pictures with his gold medal and a mile-wide smile.
This year, after taking home another top-podium finish in the 800, he’s acting like he’s been there before. And so are the people best acquainted with his talent and potential.
“Right after I crossed the finish line, Coach (Claud Spinks) came up to me and said, ‘Next is nationals. Get ready for practice on Monday,'” Dixon said. “Not too arrogant. Not too comfortable. We just know and have that feeling that if I give my 100 percent best, you know what’s going to happen.”
Dixon is, indeed, turning heads in the world of track and field, and now the head turning is starting to extend beyond his exploits in the state of Georgia. He said he’s getting some college attention from schools such as Miami (Fla.), Oregon, Florida State and Alabama, just to name a few.
He’s starting to experience winning on the state high school level as something that’s increasingly more natural.
He’s the first back-to-back champion Spinks has coached in his 10 years at Eagle’s Landing, and Spinks said Dixon’s 1:52 finish in the 800 during last weekend’s state meet in Jefferson came with less than a month of training due to injury.
But perhaps most important is the fact that the junior runner is starting to see who his true competition is now.
“I was very confident coming in that I would win,” Dixon said. “It was different than last year. This year, I wasn’t scared that I wasn’t going to win. I was scared that I wasn’t going to get a good time.”
His finishing time this year was a full three seconds ahead of his 1:55 winning time in 2014. And he said he still wasn’t completely satisfied with it.
“I mean, the 1:52 was a good time, but it wasn’t what I wanted,” he said. “I was less excited than I was last year. I guess after winning you get used to it and you want to do it again and again, and you get more hungry. I want it more.”
Spinks said despite Dixon giving “85 percent effort” during the state meet race, it was a virtual no-contest.
“If you watch that race, you see it’s over in the first 100 meters,” Spinks said. “He was 30 meters ahead of everyone else by the 200 meter mark and he never looked back.”
That’s why Spinks is pushing his two-time state champ and Henry County Male Track Athlete of the Year to push beyond his comfort zone — specifically beyond the state of Georgia’s borders.
“We expected some people to really challenge him at the state meet, and it just didn’t happen because Devin was just so far ahead of everyone else,” Spinks said. “Even at state, he didn’t run his fastest because he was just too far ahead. He needed someone to chase him and push him, and it just hasn’t happened.”
Hence the reason for Dixon’s taking part in the New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet in Greensboro, NC on June 19-21. Spinks said the rising senior will also compete in a couple of preparatory races leading up to Greensboro.
And this next level of competition is directly in line with Dixon’s next set of goals.
“Really, I want the recognition that comes with winning,” Dixon said. “Having everybody know who you are, and not having to tell anyone who you are because they already know. Knowing that you have the chance to be the best in the country. Just that alone is enough to motivate me.”
But just in case he needs a little extra incentive, Spinks said he’s got just the mental pill to give him to provide relief from any sudden cases of unwarranted hubris or lackadaisical training habits.
“I think that you remind him of how it felt when in March he ran in a big meet, and he was back in the pack,” Spinks said. “And even as good as he is, there’s a fine line between being great and being in the pack with others. Also, you have him have higher aspirations than just state championships. In that way the internet can be a wonderful thing.
“It can show you what competition has done and you can look and see there’s about 25 to 35 guys in the country who are faster than you.”
Dixon says he’s more than willing to take the challenge, which includes winning the battle in his own mind before he beats anybody else on the track.
“Right now, my mindset is the place where I need the most improvement,” he said. “Basically because my mind is trying to get my body ready, and my mind sometimes is scared to push that fourth wall, and it’s afraid to hurt. I’ve gotta learn how to push it.”
To do that, Dixon said he will rely on some advice given to him by his dad, who also ran track in high school and college.
“My dad tells me you have to run your race the best, the hardest and fastest you can,” Dixon said. “You can die later after the race.”