Wide receiver Tre Nixon was one of the millions who tuned in for every episode of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s recent 10-hour documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the ‘90s.
But Nixon wasn’t an idle viewer. He took pointers.
“Even watching this documentary, I’m learning so much stuff on how to be a leader, how MJ pushes his dudes, that I’m trying to translate to my game,” he said during a Zoom interview Thursday.
Nixon has had some noteworthy leaders during his college football career, split between Mississippi and UCF. He specifically named wide receivers DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Gabriel Davis — all current NFL’ers — as those who have helped him understand what it takes to be successful in football. Now a redshirt senior, Nixon knows it’s his turn to pay it forward and set the example for his UCF Knights teammates.
“I want to be one of the leaders that guys can look at and say, ‘Tre’s putting in all the work. I want to do this because I know Tre did it.’ That’s the kind of leader that I want to be,” he said.
⚔️ NEW PODCAST IS UP! ⚔️ @Jeff_Sharon, @Spokes_Murphy & @StatBoyDrew discuss @UCFDannyWhite's statements yesterday on what having no fans at @UCF_Football means for #UCF's budget, plus all-time @UCFKnights what-ifs and more! https://t.co/nCpf31MMao— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) May 21, 2020
It’s not only Nixon’s final year to leave his mark on UCF’s program; it’s also his final year to impress NFL Draft scouts. He watched proudly as Davis was selected in the third round by the Buffalo Bills last month — “I actually thought he should have been even drafted higher” — and said he is driven to reach the same destination.
Nixon is currently trying to better himself back at home in Viera, where he’s staying with his mother, Jeannie, and older brother, Devin, who was a member of the 2019 Knights. Whenever Nixon wants to get a lift in, he can head to the weight room in his garage. He says there are also plenty of fields in his hometown that he can use in a pinch whenever he wants to hone specific aspects of his game. This Friday, he’ll likely be in Orlando to do some more field work with a handful of Knights, including McKenzie Milton.
“Got a lot of time to sharpen this iron that I’m building,” Nixon said. “Hopefully, that way I can put the best product possible on the field to get me to that level that Gabe’s at now.”
However, it may not be long until Tre and his teammates make their formal return to UCF’s campus. The NCAA Division I Council cleared the way Wednesday for football teams to begin holding voluntary practices as soon as June 1. Nixon hasn’t heard any directions from UCF’s coaches regarding when they might come together, but he’s excited to take what he called “a great step in the right direction.”
When the Knights will play an actual football game remains a much more open question. UCF Director of Athletics Danny White said Wednesday he hoped the season would be postponed if fans were not allowed to attend this fall. Games without fans, White said, would present “about a $30 millon problem” for the athletics department.
To Nixon, playing without fans would make those treasured Saturdays feel like an “upgraded practice.” If it comes to that, Tre is confident in his ability to perform just the same without fans in the stands because he strives to bring his game-day mindset to every practice, when there aren’t 80,000-plus eyes watching his every move.
“Whatever I’ve got to do to put UCF on the map and help this team win,” he said, “I’ll do it.”
But in just about the same breath, Nixon expressed the obvious role a full, raucous stadium plays in creating a true home-field advantage for the Knights.
“Ultimately, I feel like we’re going to need a crowd because the crowd is really special in Spectrum Stadium, and that really gets the whole team going to want to win.”
When the Knights are able to play again. Nixon said the moment he steps back onto the Spectrum Stadium grass “is going to really be a blessing.”
Blessing might also be a proper word to describe Nixon’s decision to play at UCF after transferring from Ole Miss in January 2018. Two seasons, 26 starts and nearly 1,400 yards later, he knows it was the right choice.
“I feel like the path I took, the decisions I made, I wouldn’t change a thing. UCF was one of the best decisions I made,” Nixon said. “Coming back home and coming to UCF, it brought my confidence back. It showed me that I belong here. I can compete with these guys. And it gave me kind of that home feeling that I was looking for.
“I feel like the path God took me down from Ole Miss to UCF was 100% the best decision I’ve made to date.”