LINKEDIN 2 COMMENTMORE

MADISON – The 2017 Orange Bowl should serve as a unique and emotional homecoming for Wisconsin defensive backs Derrick Tindal and D’Cota Dixon.

Tindal, a senior cornerback who has 33 starts and 51 games played, was born in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 

He grew up less than an hour from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., where UW (12-1) will battle Miami (10-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday. 

“It’s lit,” Tindal said when asked about returning home for his final college game. “I’ve got my last game at the crib. I get to end it all with a lot of my family who never got to see me play a game in person are going to be able to this time. 

“It’s just going to be a great experience, ending my college career at the crib.”

Dixon, a redshirt junior safety, was born near Miami with his parents and older brother Dexter. However, because his parents both struggled with substance abuse, Dixon moved and grew up in Oak Hill, Fla., a few miles northeast of Orlando.

“I’ll definitely have a lot more family coming,” said Dixon, who cherishes his relationship with his stepmother, Beth Caston.

Tindal was a freshman at UW in 2014 when his mother died from cancer.

His father, Derrick Tindal, remains an anchor for the family.

Dixon was a freshman in high school in 2010 when his father, Daryl Dixon, died of a heart attack.

Caston is D’Cota Dixon’s rock, a woman he credits with saving his life.

“If it wasn’t for Beth I’d be in prison or dead,” he told the Journal Sentinel during his redshirt sophomore season. 

Three years have passed since Tindal lost his mother, but he acknowledges memories can overwhelm him without warning. 

“It creeps in sometimes,” he said. “To this day it still hits me sometimes. Like: ‘Dang, my mom can’t come watch me play.’

“My mom never got to attend one of my games.”

Nor did Dixon’s birth mother, who he hasn’t seen for at least a decade.

Dixon hopes to stage a reunion during the Orange Bowl trip.

“I’m looking forward to seeing my mom,” Dixon said when asked about returning to his home state.

A reporter replied: “You mean Beth?"

Dixon shook his head. He was referring to his birth mother.

“That is what I’m looking forward to most, to be honest,” Dixon said. 

Dixon said he isn’t sure where his mother is living but a sister knows where she spends most of her days.

“I’ll find her,” Dixon said. 

What type of reaction does he expect? 

Does his mother know how her son has started 22 games at UW and played in 41?

Does she know he was voted a captain this season? 

Does she know that in June he was one of five athletes to be given the prestigious Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award? That the award is intended to honor student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic and/or emotional odds to succeed in the classroom?

“I don’t know,” Dixon said. “I have no idea.

"Hopefully, she is paying attention.”

Anyone who has followed Dixon’s at UW would be impressed by his perseverance.

Dixon played in three games as a freshman in 2014 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

After an uneventful 2015 season, Dixon was working with the No. 1 defense in the spring of 2016 when he was hospitalized because of an infection in his groin area. 

He spent a week in the hospital as doctors worked to find an antibiotic that would fight the infection. Dixon was on medication for six weeks after his release.

“We still don’t know where it came from,” he said. 

Dixon dropped almost 20 pounds to 185 from 204. 

He won the starting job in camp, secured UW’s season-opening victory over LSU with a late interception and started all 14 games to help UW finish with an 11-3 mark.

A hamstring injury that has forced him to miss two games and parts of several others this season has frustrated Dixon. He appears on track to return to the starting lineup in the Orange Bowl, however.

“I hope so,” he said. “I think I will be, but that is the coaches’ decision.”

After overcoming the loss of his mother in 2014, Tindal has enjoyed a relatively smooth road to his final game at UW.

He started four games as a sophomore and has started the last 27 games. Tindal intercepted three passes and broke up 11 overall as a junior. He enters the Orange Bowl with two interceptions and 10 passes broken up.

“He’s just much more consistent,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “He is so athletic that in the past he could try to get away with being a better athlete than the guy across from him. 

“And at times, that hurts your consistency because you don’t have the fundamentals to fall back on. That has been his focus since last spring.

“Coming out of last season, realizing he had a lot of highs and then there were some lows. It is the consistency that is going to carry over. That has been his focus and he has done a great job of pushing himself and trying to get better in a lot of areas.”

Dixon, who was granted a medical waiver for the ’14 season, will be back next season. Tindal realizes Saturday will be the last time he takes the field with his UW teammates.

“It has been a great journey,” he said. “I’m thankful to all the guys in that locker room. They helped me have a great senior year. …

“But it ain’t done yet. We’ve still got to finish this last game off. I’m going to miss these guys.”

 Like Dixon, with so many family members planning to attend the game, Tindal has one issue to address before kickoff.

“I still don’t think I have enough tickets,” he said. 

 

LINKEDIN 2 COMMENTMORE