Prep Football

COACH OF THE YEAR: Dixon's culture of creating FREAKs helps improve himself, too

Central Coach Brad Dixon on Friday, Sep. 14, 2018. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 8, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Dec. 9, 2018 1:24 am

CAMP POINT, Ill. -- Anyone who follows Central football coach Brad Dixon on Twitter has probably come across his daily tweet.

#UpEarlyToTrain.

COACHES OF THE YEAR

2018 -- Brad Dixon, Central
2017 -- David Kirby, Monroe City
2016 -- David Kirby, Monroe City
2015 -- Kevin Krietemeyer, Unity-Payson
2014 -- Kevin Miles, Palmyra
2013 -- Kevin Miles, Palmyra
2012 -- Brad Dixon, Central
2011 -- Tom Little, Brown County
2010 -- Jim Unruh, Illini West
2009 -- Rick Little, Quincy
2008 -- Jim Unruh, Illini West
2007 -- Matt Smith, Clark County
2006 -- Mark St. Clair, Hannibal
2005 -- Kent O'Laughlin, South Shelby
2004 -- Tom Little, Brown County
2003 -- Don Bigley, Pittsfield
2002 -- Jim Unruh, Carthage
2001 -- Mark St. Clair, Hannibal
2000 -- Par Pitts, Palmyra
1999 -- Jim Unruh, Carthage
1998 -- Tony Merryman, Pleasant Hill
1997 -- Dale Labuary, Monroe CIty
1996 -- Dale Labuary, Monroe City
1995 -- Jim Unruh, Carthage
1994 -- Bill Connell, QND
1993 -- Tom Gramates, Mark Twain
1992 -- Dale Labuary, Monroe City
1991 -- Will Bavery, Rushville
1990 -- John Morris, South Shelby
1989 -- Gary Brickman, Unity
1988 -- Jeff Wright, Mark Twain
1987 -- Dale Labuary, Monroe City
1986 -- Dean Cappel, Quincy
1985 -- Jim Repplinger, Hamilton
1984 -- Ken Miller, Carthage
1983 -- Bob Winstead, QND
1982 -- Jim Henry, Brown County
1981 -- Dave Bennett, Pittsfield
1980 -- Jeff White, Knox County
1979 -- Bob Steinman, Carthage
1978 -- Don Flowers, Pleasant Hill
1977 -- Jim Repplinger, Hamilton

The tweet is usually posted before the sun is up and while most are still asleep. For Dixon, however, it's a small part of the culture he's created in his eight seasons as the Panthers' coach.

That culture has revolved around creating FREAKs in the football program since 2014.

"It came from just wanting to do more than coaching football and kids," Dixon said. "We wanted to give them something they could wrap their minds around and something tangible in the weight room, in school and on the football field."

Dixon has been named the 2018 Herald-Whig Coach of the Year after guiding his team to its first state championship game appearance in Class 1A. Central lost 44-6 to Forreston in the title game but still brought home the program's first football hardware.

The idea of creating a FREAK culture -- the acronym stands for Finish on empty, Relentless effort, Embrace competition, Always accountable and Known for discipline -- came from a coaching convention Dixon attended in 2014 in Indianapolis. The Panthers reached their second state semifinals in program history later that fall, and Dixon believed the creation of the FREAK culture was working.

"We created the acronym because if you say, 'That dude is a freak,' no one wants to mess with that guy," Dixon said. "He's just a stud."

Before Dixon could get his players to buy in to his FREAK culture, he had to transform his identity, too.

Dixon played one year of football at Knox College, then turned to coaching high school while still enrolled in college. He wasn't training for football shape any longer, so his weight grew steadily. Dixon said he eventually topped 300 pounds.

"I was eating Casey's pizza and going to college," Dixon said. "It kind of spiraled out of control."

He was like that when he arrived at Central to be an assistant for Panthers coach Bill Reed and teach social studies. Central and Southeastern schools had a Biggest Loser competition in 2009 that Dixon participated in, which got the ball rolling for a healthier lifestyle.

He started with dieting and gradually moved toward running on a daily basis and lifting weights. He started powerlifting and crash dieting, and he eventually dropped to 160 pounds.

Dixon says he's currently around 225, and is living healthier than ever as he makes sure he works out at least six days a week.

Being a full-time physical education teacher helps him stay active.

"I was in horrible shape for a long time," Dixon said. "I'm out here in my early years getting my kids to do all this. If the coach isn't even following, it's like, you know, (then why am I) going to preach it?"

This year's success helped validate the culture Dixon created, along with his own lifestyle change. He believes his journey to making himself healthier has helped build success in the football program.

"It gives me a connection point," Dixon said. "Some of the guys see old pictures of me and their like, 'Coach, holy cow.' They see me as just a real person. I haven't always been disciplined, but when they see the coaches are putting the time in, it makes them play harder."

It also gives everyone in the program something more than just playing football.

"If it's all about winning, what happens if you don't win? Does your program mean nothing?" Dixon said. "We had to do something where the guys were always going to buy in."