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Dixon excited to face challenges

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

The news hit Wednesday and sent a ripple of excitement throughout Pulaski County immediately. Expectations are high in Cougar Country, as they always are. Former Galax High School coach Mark Dixon is officially the new head coach for the Cougar football program.

 

Dixon will be only the sixth head football coach in the 47-year history of Pulaski County High School. He replaces Stephen James, who stepped down to take a teaching job at George Wythe High School, his alma mater. The formal announcement was sent out by PCHS AD Scott Vest.

 

“We feel very fortunate to have a coach the caliber of Mark Dixon. He is a proven winner and comes highly recommended” says Scott Vest, PCHS Athletic Director. “There were many qualified applicants for this position, but Dixon emerged as the best fit to lead our football program.”

 

“It only took me a few days when I moved to Galax to hear about Pulaski County for the first time,” Coach Dixon said Thursday. “I was at a gym working out and we started talking about football. It didn’t take long for one of the guys to mention Joel Hicks and the Cougars. I’ve met Coach Hicks a few times and know how important football and sports are here. I’ve read about the tradition and history. What has been built here is talked about. I’m excited and honored to have become a part of that now.”

 

Dixon, who is 49 years old, was born in Charlottesville and graduated from Ragsdale High School in Jamestown, North Carolina. He played for the University of Virginia under George Welsh, where he was a Consensus All-American as an offensive guard in 1993 for the Cavaliers.

 

He entered the National Football League as an undrafted free agent in 1994 due to issues with injuries and related surgeries. He originally signed with the Philadelphia Eagles before being released and signing with the Frankfurt Galaxy of the NFL Europe League. He later moved on to earn a starting position in the CFL with the Baltimore Stallions in 1995 and then the Montreal Alouettes in 1996 and 97. He signed with the Miami Dolphins under head coach Jimmy Johnson in 1998 and played in 62 regular-season games for them, starting in 60 of those through the 2003 season.

 

At the end of his playing days, Dixon found himself back in school, working toward becoming a clinical psychologist. He was living in Galax at the time and going to school when he was approached about coaching the junior varsity basketball team.

“It wasn’t what I had planned on doing, but once I started I couldn’t stop,” Dixon said. “I like competition and taking on challenges. I did pretty well and the next season I was named the varsity football coach.”

 

Galax had not seen a large amount of athletic success up to that point. Their golf team held most of the awards in the history books with six state championships beginning in 1973. In 2000 the boys’ tennis team earned a state title, but postseason hardware was hard to find other than that.

 

When Dixon entered the scene, his enthusiasm and approach to getting the job done was enough to change the culture at the school and in the city. Expectations rose and so did the trophy count. His football team earned a Class 1A state championship in 2015 and nearly earned another last season. But it wasn’t just football. Basketball picked up, winning state titles in 2011 and 2012. The golf team and baseball team also added top trophies to an impressive case. The wrestling team produced four individual state champions. The girls basketball team and softball teams also showed great improvements, as did soccer and other sports.

 

Mark Dixon ended his time as the Galax football coach with a record of 101-31. In case you don’t have your calculator with you, that’s a 77% winning percentage.

 

“Galax was a great experience for me and my family,” Dixon said. “My 10 years there were great. We had a ton of support and I’m leaving with a lot of great memories. Those kids work hard though, so whoever they get to coach them is going to do well.”

 

So with the Maroon Tide in his past now, Dixon has set about putting together his plans for Pulaski County. So far, he’s liking what he is seeing. One thing that has also made the transition easier is the fact that Dixon and James have known each other for several years and are friends.

 

“I spent most of Thursday talking with Coach James going over what we have coming back,” Dixon said. “I’m pretty happy with what I’m seeing so far. I think we have a pretty strong core group of players to start things off with and there are others that will develop quickly. We’re going to do what best utilizes the players we have and build off that.”

 

With the change come some obvious questions for the new coach. What will be the new Pulaski County style of play? What will we run? Who will be on the coaching staff? All of those questions and more were discussed.

 

“I’ve been meeting with the current assistant coaches and I’ve got to say that they are an impressive group,” Dixon said. “I still have a few to meet with and I want to set up a video meeting with the players as soon as possible. I just want to have the staff in place first so we can have that out of the way. From there, we’re going to find out who wants to work and who wants to win.”

 

The next question for Coach Dixon concerned his offense.

“I believe it all starts up front with your offensive line,” he said. “You have to win the line of scrimmage. I take that very personally. If our line gets the job done, it makes everything else easier. I’ve seen the Pulaski County offensive linemen. At Galax we didn’t always have kids with that kind of size. The Cougars seem to grow them down here, so I’m going to like that. From there we will do what best suits the athletes that we have in the skill positions. In the end, we have to be able to run the ball and move the chains. We will be a very physical team. We want to knock people off the line. There will be times that we pass as well but in the end, if we can’t run the ball we have a problem.”

 

Speaking of being “very physical” brought up the Cougar defense.

 

“I’m very impressed,” he said. “That defense last season was tough. The defense that Pulaski County used last year is a lot like what we ran. I’ve spoken to Coach Rob Colley and he is very excited about the defensive prospects for the season. I’m excited to see this defense in action. A hard-hitting and disciplined defense can and will help you win a lot of ballgames.”

 

Dixon will be moving to Pulaski County, which will also put him closer to his children, who attend Virginia Tech and Radford University. His wife, Wendy, will be a math teacher at PCHS as well.

 

“We’re all excited about this new chapter,” Dixon said. “It seems like all the elements for success are here, we just have to work to make it happen. We’re going to start connecting with the players to make sure they know the expectations. I’m proud to be here at Pulaski County and I’m excited about the future.”

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