Aug. 8, 2003
How do you lose your two starting corners to the NFL, and come into fall camp fully confident that you may be even better in the secondary? Easy, you have young guys that are ready and willing to step up. As improbable as that sounds for most football programs, it seems that is exactly what the Cal Bears are banking on in 2003.
With the second season of the Tedford regime is upon us, the Bears are showing that there will be no drop off, from a year ago, especially at DB, where the Bears are poised, youthful and very athletic. Sophomore rover Donnie McCleskey, senior James Bethea, junior Ryan Gutierrez and slew of freshman and JC transfers figure to form a quality secondary.
"It is a testament to where Coach Tedford is taking this program," defensive backs coach J.D. Williams exclaims, referring to the amount of youthful firepower at Cal's disposal in 2003.
The Bears seem to be reloaded in the defensive backfield, particularly with the emergence of the diminutive, yet explosive Tim Mixon.
"He will be on that wall in a few years," Williams says with a giant grin, while pointing at a wall full of pictures of recent Cal draft picks.
Williams has been smiling a lot this fall camp, because his talented redshirt freshmen corner has picked up where he left off in the spring - awing his coaches with his athletic ability and maturity.
"Timmy has a great outlook on life, and it is reflected in how he approaches the game," says Williams. "He is definitely going to grow into a leadership position here."
The 19-year-old DB from Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., has come in and taken the cornerback position by storm, utilizing his incredible quickness and unparalleled instincts when the ball is in the air.
"He is a super quick player that stays disciplined in the things we teach him," says Williams describing his novice. "But above all, he is a competitor."
As competitive as Mixon is, it is hard to imagine how he felt to have to just sit and watch last season, in the midst of Cal's phenomenal resurgence.
"It was difficult," explains Mixon. "But as I look back, it was the best thing for me. Red-shirting really allowed my transition from high school to college to be much smoother."
Smooth may be the right word to describe his transition but not his game. The scrappy, hard-nosed pass-defender is far from your typical flashy Deion Sanders type.
"He is bigger than that and he's a good character kid," explains Williams referring to the description. "He is a complete football player, with all the right tools, who will only get better."
Mixon took it upon himself last fall to improve in all aspects, participating on the Cal scout team.
"Playing on the scout team was a blessing in disguise," explains Mixon retrospectively. " I got a chance to get a lot of reps, instead of just watching our first string DBs over on the other side."
Competing day in and day out against one of the Bears most experienced units, last year, has given Mixon the opportunity to gain a lot of confidence in his abilities as a player. As his confidence continues to rise, success has quickly followed. But don't think for a second that success will change him.
"I try to stay as focused and as humble as possible," says Mixon. "I just want to listen and continue to do what I've been doing. It is important to me that when I make a play I act like I've done it before.
Mixon's workman-like attitude has followed him off the field and into the weight room, where he has gained 13 pounds since spring practice.
"Tim is not only getting better but bigger too," Williams explains, "he has even grown an inch."
Tim will need all the size he can bare, with the likes of a strong Pac-10 Conference that possesses more highly rated returning wide receivers than any other conference in college football.
But not to worry, Mixon seems to have it under control.
"I have been able to go one on one with a group of solid and productive receivers for the past year in practice, some that are really fast and some that are really tall, now it is time to go play the best and try to be the best."
Mixon will get his chance soon enough, as Cal's opener against the nationally No. 5 ranked Kansas State Wildcats Aug. 23rd draws closer.
The sky is the limit for this young Bear who is quickly coming into his own. With a smile, Mixon welcomes a new season, full of new yet exciting opportunities to shine.
"My adrenaline will be really high this year, especially early in the season. But I think I will be able to control it and not forget everything that I've been taught."