This one was almost a season in the making, but three games before the end, the cards were dealt and true freshman offensive tackle Xavier Nixon started his first game as a Florida Gator. The 6-6, 305 pound Nixon is a wall of a man on the edge of the line and had a good game in his first start. His fellow linemen stood up and took notice of just how well he played.
Junior Marcus Gilbert is the starter opposite of Nixon on the right side. Gilbert redshirted his first year, played sparingly as a redshirt freshman, and then saw some starting time as a sophomore in 2008. Gilbert can really appreciate Nixon and what he showed in his first start.
“He did really good for his first start,” Gilbert said of the freshman. “I didn't expect that. My first start was crazy. I had been here for two and a half years, so I was pretty ready.
Gilbert even had the luxury of starting the season opener and against a team not quite as talented as South Carolina. Gilbert was impressed with Nixon's ability to stay focused and unwavering assuredness in him.
“I played against a non-conference and he played against a good SEC team,” Gilbert said. “It is really tough, I couldn't do it. He came out here and did good, so he has to keep it going. He was pretty confident, like he knew what he was doing.”
Junior starting center Maurkice Pouncey mirrored a lot of Gilbert's reaction to Nixon's play.
“He had a motor out there and was real encouraging, he played great,” Pouncey said. “I think he was a little bit better than me, he played a division 1 school, I played against Western Kentucky (in his first start).”
Pouncey was impressed with Nixon's demeanor and ability to play without fear in his first start.
“Yeah (I was surprised about) how he took it, he wasn't scared at all,” Pouncey said.
Gilbert said he saw early signs of Nixon being able to contribute when he first arrived on campus. Head coach Urban Meyer often singled out Nixon early in the year as a player that was likely to get on the field a lot.
“He had the athletic ability and technique was pretty good,” Gilbert said of Nixon's ability when he arrived on campus in June. “He was very physical, he just had to adapt to the transition from high school to college.”
Nixon came to Florida because of the opportunity to play early. Florida has shown in the past they will play their most talented players regardless of position and that includes on the offensive linemen where Maurkice and Mike Pouncey both played and started as freshmen. Still, he is humbled by the starting position
“I thought about it and it is still hard to soak in sometimes,” Nixon said. “I just take it one day at a time and try and get better.”
Although he had the drive this whole time, Nixon understood why he didn't get on the field earlier. Now, he just wants to grab a hold of the opportunity and run with it.
“I wasn't surprised, it just made me work harder and want it more,” Nixon said about not starting from day one. “Now that I got it, I just appreciate it more.”
Nixon also knows that if he weren’t in there, the group would move forward and make the best of the situation.
“Anybody in there, we have a great rotation and we are all going to gel,” Nixon said. “People just have to step up and play a role, which is what we did.”
Nixon drew a great deal of strength in his first start from the guys that were battling on the line of scrimmage with him every play on Saturday.
“My fellow offensive linemen that started with me helped me during the game,” Nixon said. “Carl Johnson who lined up next to me, helped me out during the game. He just told me all the things I need to do in my position and kept my mind clear.”
And the others will keep helping Nixon become a stalwart on the offensive line. A line that seemed to get better when Nixon was added to the mix.
“We have to get Xavier more and more ready to play,” Pouncey said. “He did a great job Saturday, so we just have to practice and keep preparing him. He did good, he made some freshman mistakes, but he played good.”
And pretty soon he won't be a freshman.