West’s Parks ties for second in AP player of year voting
By Aaron Beard
Associated PressRALEIGH ó Xavier Nixon doesn’t have much trouble playing under pressure.
Over the past year, he lined up for Fayetteville Britt as one of the nation’s most sought-after recruits at a position often overlooked in favor of flashy quarterbacks and running backs. And during his high school career, Nixon has played through the uncertainty and worry of having both parents deployed in wars overseas.
“It was very stressful, but I just use the lessons they taught me to pull through, keep my grades up and stay focused,” Nixon said.
The formula has worked well enough for the offensive tackle to become The Associated Press prep football player of the year for North Carolina.Nixon earned seven of a possible 20 votes from statewide sports writers in results released Friday. Greensboro Dudley quarterback Ricky Lewis and West Rowan running back K.P. Parks both earned five votes to tie for second after leading their teams to state championships.
Nixon is believed to be the first offensive lineman recognized as AP’s top player in North Carolina.
According to records dating back to 1983, 26 of the 27 players who won or shared the award previously were quarterbacks or running backs. The other was Burlington Cummings wide receiver Maurice Mebane, who shared the honor in 1992.
“The coaches that watch the game film and the coaches in our league, they know what kind of player he is,” Britt coach Richard Bailey said. “Sometimes it goes unnoticed by the casual fans who are following the ball around.”
Nixon’s senior season fell just short of a title, with Britt (14-2) losing to Richmond County in the Class 4AA final earlier this month. Still, Nixon was widely regarded as the top player to come out of the area ó a traditional hotbed for prep football ó since Marvin Powell left Fayetteville 71st in the 1970s to become an All-American at Southern California and an all-pro with the NFL’s New York Jets.
The AP honor is just the latest addition to Nixon’s impressive résumé. The Shrine Bowl pick and two-time AP All-State pick has earned a spot in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl featuring the nation’s top players. He’s also ranked as the No. 6 recruit in the country by Scout.com and has been named the Gatorade player of the year in North Carolina.
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Nixon plans to announce his college choice between favorites LSU, Florida and Miami at the Army all-star game, which will be held in San Antonio on Jan. 3. It’s a special honor for Nixon, the first player in the game’s history with two parents who are active duty in the U.S. Army.
His father, Kenneth, is a command sergeant major who’s serving in Afghanistan. His mother, Fotini, is a master sergeant who has served in Iraq and is stationed at Fort Bragg.
Nixon lived with his grandmother his freshman year because both parents were deployed at the same time. Fotini has been home since late 2005, and her husband has in Afghanistan for the past year. Kenneth is scheduled to return briefly for the all-star game before his deployment is scheduled to end in April.
The family has remained close despite being constantly separated, with Kenneth calling several times each week to talk with his son. Xavier’s on-field success has been a welcome respite from the pressures of having a parent in a war zone.
“It’s been more overwhelming for me than it has been for him,” Fotini said. “Every time he does an interview or talks to a kid on the team, it’s just a burst of pride that comes through me. I can’t believe that’s my same baby I had 18 years ago. … We are proud. It tells us we are doing the right things even though our family has had a couple of separations and hardships, and we’ve kept him focused.”
It’s an effort Nixon is quick to credit when asked about all his success.
“My parents have raised me well and taught me everything I need in life,” he said, “and it just shows that it paid off and people recognize that.”