MOORHEAD — Jamal Dixon went to a University of Minnesota football camp in early June and that’s when his NCAA Division I recruitment started to heat up.
After that camp, he received an offer from Northern Iowa, a Football Championship Subdivision program in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Moorhead Spuds senior-to-be has picked up offers from the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State since.
“I just balled out and had fun,” Dixon said of the Gophers camp. “I’ve always had dreams of playing college football.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Dixon is projected to play cornerback in college, a position where he started for the Spuds during his junior season.
“He’s a real long corner,” Spuds head coach Kevin Feeney said. “That’s what’s intriguing a lot of colleges.”
Dixon said he hopes to make his college decision by early August in what is becoming a trend for the Spuds program. Once he commits to a Division I school, Dixon is set to become the ninth player from Moorhead since 2017 to either commit or play for a D-I program.
“Success breeds success,” Feeney said. “We have goals of putting kids into college football at every level.”
Kicker Brady Leach, a 2017 Moorhead graduate, and running back Otis Weah, a 2018 Moorhead grad, play for UND. Offensive lineman Seth Anderson, a 2020 Moorhead graduate, is at NDSU. Quarterback Trey Feeney and wide receivers Blake Walthall and Brady Walthall are set to join the Fighting Hawks in the fall.
Spuds linebacker and senior-to-be Austin Altepeter has committed to NDSU and defensive lineman Jack Teiken, also a rising senior, has committed to UND for the 2022 recruiting class. Dixon is likely to join Altepeter and Teiken as D-I commits in the 2022 class.
“It’s really fun seeing all my teammates do well,” said Dixon, who is Weah’s younger brother.
The Spuds went 7-0 last fall during a COVID-shortened season. Moorhead earned a “mythical” Minnesota Class 5A state championship as it was voted No. 1 in multiple polls, including the final Associated Press poll. The Spuds had six Division I recruits starting on the team, counting Dixon.
“That’s not even counting all the Division II, Division III and NAIA kids that we had on that roster,” Feeney said.
Feeney said former Spuds players like Chase Morlock and Jade Lawrence helped start the program’s recent run of high-level college players. Morlock played running back at NDSU from 2013-2016, while Lawrence played linebacker at UND from 2015-2019.
“It goes back to guys like Chase and Jade who started the ball for us at Moorhead,” said Feeney, who has been the Spuds head coach for 11 seasons.
Dixon had a big junior season for the Spuds after a sophomore season in which he couldn’t stay healthy. Dixon said he didn’t have the mental toughness he needed to be successful as a sophomore.
A postseason meeting with his coach was a turning point in his high school career.
“They believed in me, they believed I could play, but the thing is they couldn’t rely on me,” Dixon said of the message he took away from that meeting. “I took that and said that wasn’t going to happen anymore.”
Dixon said Weah has helped him through the recruiting process, but added his older brother hasn’t tried to sway his college decision.
“One thing I credit Otis for is he doesn’t care where I go to school, he just cares about me playing college football,” said Dixon, who has also received multiple Division II offers. “He just wants me to succeed, wants me to be better than him, which I love him for.”
Dixon said it took time for him to develop into his own player after Weah’s success with the Spuds and this past spring at UND.
“That’s a huge name to live up to.” Dixon said. “I had to learn to not try to be like Otis, but be me and try to be better.”
Dixon said he wants to play at the highest level he can, but isn’t fixated on the FBS level. He’s already grateful for the offers he’s received to this point.
“I believe I can get an FBS offer, but I’m not set on FBS or nothing,” Dixon said. “If a school wants me, I’m interested in them. I’m not going to chase people who don’t know who I am or believe I’m not good enough to be on their team.”
Dixon is a three-sport athlete for the Spuds, also playing basketball and competing in track and field. He credits Moorhead defensive coordinator Spencer Stowers, who helps with speed development and is also the head track coach, and strength coordinator Cory Herrmann have played a key role in his physical development.
“He looks the part.," Feeney said of Dixon. “He’s a guy who has a high ceiling.”
Feeney said Spuds football players are in a strength training class throughout the school year and 90% of the team is also out for a spring sport. Feeney added around 95% of the juniors and seniors on the team participate in the voluntary summer workouts. That team work ethic is one of the reasons the Spuds have developed multiple Division I recruits and college players at other levels in recent years.
“We’ve got to have kids who want to work and have talent,” Feeney said. “It’s a busy schedule, but they do have opportunities to become better athletes. … They understand what they are getting into. They understand the commitment that’s needed to be great.”