To list all of Mark Dixon’s achievements on the gridiron would take up quite a bit of space in this newspaper.
After all, the 49-year-old favorite son of Jamestown, North Carolina, was an All-American offensive lineman at the University of Virginia and spent six seasons in the National Football League with the Miami Dolphins.
However, you could make a valid argument that Dixon’s most impressive feat has occurred in his current gig as a high school football coach.
He has won 100 games in his 10 seasons leading the Galax Maroon Tide, transforming a once-downtrodden program into a perennial title contender in the VHSL’s smallest classification.
Galax (11-1) is in the state semifinals for the fifth straight year and plays Patrick Henry (13-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday in a Class 1 clash at Emory & Henry College’s Fred Selfe Stadium, a streak of success the Tide’s coach isn’t taking lightly.
“You always worry that kids appreciate it, because of how much they put into it and they have the time of their life while they are doing it and don’t take it for granted,” Dixon said. “They don’t get these days back and they’ve done something tremendous and it’s a heck of an accomplishment. … Because it’s something that was accomplished the year before, I think sometimes it’s minimized and it shouldn’t be. They are their own little group, they did their own little thing and it’s a big deal to me that they did it. Because it happens a lot, it’s not treated like it’s a big deal. I always try to remind them that it is.”
The Maroon Tide had won just two playoff games in program history prior to Dixon’s arrival in the fall of 2010 and had gone 3-7 the season before he took over.
Since then, he’s led Galax to a state runner-up finish in 2011 (losing to Clintwood in the title game) and a state championship in 2015 as part of a decade of dominance.
“It’s gone by super fast,” Dixon said. “It seems like yesterday it all started with that first class of kids who were so talented. I’ve been blessed to have a lot of the same coaches with me the whole time. Not really knowing how to build a program, my first-time ever coaching, I think having those experienced coaches at the beginning was critical.
“Having that first class of kids set a standard. I think some of the hang-ups that had been here before I was here, those guys that first year were able to break some of those things that had been in everybody’s minds and that really started it off. You have the administration – you have to have people who are so supportive and back you, because it’s gotta be demanding and it’s gotta be tough. It’s kind of a perfect storm.”
Geography is also vital.
“Being Single-A and still being in a city is rare,” Dixon said. “It’s a huge advantage in this part of the state. All of my kids are five minutes away, so the demand of time is not the same as if a kid is driving 45 minutes to get here. All the demands we are placing on the kids they can do. Being a city school and having some of those demographics of a city helps.”
Having plenty of good players is a plus too and Galax certainly has those in abundance this season as evidenced by the fact the Tide is averaging 48.7 points per game and giving up just 13.8 points per contest.
Denver Brown (169 carries, 1,898 yards, 21 touchdowns) is the leading rusher, while quarterback Cole Pickett (112-of-197, 2,248 yards, 34 TD passes, six interceptions) and wide receiver Zach Johnson (37 catches, 1,008 yards, 20 TDs) are stars in the balanced offense.
Freshman Riley Jo Vaught spearheads the defense with 11 of his 74 tackles having occurred behind the line of scrimmage.
Galax has scored 52 or more points in six of its last seven games, has a plus-15 turnover margin, has outgained the opposition by 3,000 yards and its only loss came to Region 3D runner-up Northside.
“I think we’re much different on offense than we’ve ever been,” Dixon said. “We throw the ball a lot more. We’re a lot more diverse. It’s not the tailback every time and we’re not just throwing it to put on film. We throw because it’s what we want to do. Defensively, it’s the same as we’ve been – strong up front, stop the run and try to get to where [the opponent] has to pass and then blitz. That’s been similar.”
Also similar is the respect Dixon has from teams in far Southwest Virginia.
Chilhowie eliminated Galax in the state semifinals the past two seasons.
The Maroon Tide has also played postseason road games at Haysi, Honaker and J.I. Burton.
“Patrick Henry has athleticism, speed,” Dixon said. “Haysi was its own thing, Honaker was totally different. They were huge, just really big. PH is big like Honaker in some ways, but I think the difference is their skill kids are so good, whereas Honaker would just pound on you. Each one of those teams has been different and as you go down that way, it’s high-level coaching and it’s the same with [Patrick Henry coach Mark Palmer]. He’s a genius at using his talent.”
He compares Palmer to Haysi coach James Colley, whose teams posted playoff wins over Galax in 2013 and 2014.
“He reminds me of Colley in how they utilize their players and put them in position to beat you,” Dixon said.
Likewise, Palmer holds his coaching counterpart in high regard.
“Coach Dixon has a great reputation and it’s based off turning Galax around and keeping his program as a state-level team as long as he has been there,” Palmer said. “He has built a team that is known for its physicality, team strength and great offensive line play. He is without a doubt one of the best coaches in the state and his teams reflect his coaching style. They are known for their weight room dedication and I think that goes a long way in their continued success. It creates discipline, commitment and builds character.”
The Dixon diagram always includes deep forays into the postseason each year.
“If we on practice on Thanksgiving Day, it’s a great year,” Dixon said. “I don’t care what fans say or anybody in the world says. If we had lost by 50 points last [Saturday to George Wythe in the Region 1C finals], it was still a great year. If we can make it to Thanksgiving, that’s a great year for any high school program.
“I have to remind the kids, whatever happens after this point, I’m proud of you. … Here sometimes they think they have to get to the state championship or we have to get to this game, but really it’s just a day-to-day process and you just do the best you can.”