Hixson earns NFL contract

NFL BOUND: Chippewa Hills and Hillsdale College grad Nick Hixson signed a three-year contract with the New Orleans Saints as a cornerback. (Pioneer file photo)

Chippewa Hills grad joins New Orleans Saints’ 90-man roster as CB

NEW ORLEANS — When Nick Hixson returns to Remus to visit family and friends, he’s usually seen as something of a hometown hero. The next time he makes a trip back home, he’ll be a Saint.

Hixson, a graduate of Chippewa Hills High School and Hillsdale College, inked a contract with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints late Sunday, making him a part of the team’s current 90-man roster.

Hixson, who starred as both a cornerback and wide receiver in college, will be a cornerback with the Saints, but also might have chance to play special teams, where he made his mark during the organization’s three-day rookie mini camp over the weekend in New Orleans.

After trying out with the Washington Redskins the week before, Hixson said he got the call to meet with interim head coach Joe Vitt after he had boarded a bus that was about to take him back to the airport.

“I was kind of in disbelief,” he said. “I met with (interim coach Joe Vitt) who said I was on the team. Everything worked out for the best.”

After Hixson attended the Redskins’ mini camp the week before, he said he got plenty of good learning experience, which helped him stand out during the Saints’ camp over the weekend.

Hixson said there aren’t many opportunities to impress the coaching staff with so many players in attendance, but he felt he was able to showcase his talents enough to make an impression.

“Everyone’s the best college player from their team at the camp,” he said. “It’s a similar transition I had to face from high school to college. I think I made my mark on special teams, where I was able to show off my speed and do some of the little things that put me over the top.”

Hixson joins a Saints organization that has made headlines throughout the NFL offseason. The team’s now infamous “bounty program” that led to the suspensions of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and current coach Sean Payton as well as players Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita and Will Smith has been a topic of conversation for sports fans across the country over the past couple of months.

Hixson said he saw nothing but a top-notch organization during his time in New Orleans, however, from the coaches to the players.

“The whole thing was pretty insignificant for me while I was (down there),” he said. “It’s been a very classy organization and all of the coaches have been great. I think they’re all looking to move forward (from the bounty program issue).”

While Hixson will have to wait until August to learn whether he makes the Saints’ official 53-man roster, he has signed a standard three-year rookie contract with the organization. If he doesn’t make the team’s final game roster, he will still be a part of the Saints’ practice squad.

After starring at quarterback for Chippewa Hills, Hixson didn’t receive a ton of interest from larger college programs for his services at the next level.

Chippewa Hills coach Larry Jose said he knew if Hixson got a shot, he would would offer enough intangibles as a player to make his mark.

“I was really hoping he’d get a shot to prove the same things he’s already proven to everybody else,” Jose said. “I didn’t know if that would happen, because there are so few reps out there that you get to prove yourself. Three days isn’t enough time, but I knew if he was able to get to their camp, they were going to find out who Nick Hixson was.”

What the Saints discovered in Hixson was an athletic, versatile player who knows how to play a number of different positions.

Hixson starred for Hillsdale as a three-year starter at defensive back, but also served as the team’s primary kick returner, and as a senior, was a wide receiver.

On offense, Hixson was a go-to receiver on third down for the Chargers as a senior. He caught 25 passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns. More than half of his catches came on third down, and led directly to first downs. As a kick returner, Hixson averaged 22.3 yards per kick return, and had a season-long 52-yard kickoff return against Ashland University Sept. 17. In three seasons as a kickoff returner, Hixson piled up 1,635 kick return yards.

But his primary role was at cornerback, and he improved in each of his seasons as a starter for the Chargers. In 2011, Hixson had two interceptions and broke up a team-high nine passes in earning first-team All-GLIAC honors.

Jose believes the versatility Hixson showed made him an attractive prospect at the mini camp.

“The fact that he’s got a contract has little to do with his defensive back play right now,” he said. “He proved himself with special teams work down there. He was able to get in the mix early at Hillsdale doing the same thing — just giving everything he’s got on every rep. That’s why he’s in the place that he is now.”

Hixson began offseason workouts with the team on Monday and will continue to work out with the team until Thursday before heading back to Michigan to get some of his possessions.

After he learned he had earned a contract, it didn’t take long for word to spread back home that he had gotten his foot in the door in the NFL ranks.

After receiving emotional congratulations from his immediate family, Hixson said he began to look forward but also reflect on what has gotten him to this point in his career.

“I came (to New Orleans) with three days worth of clothes,” Hixson laughed. “I’ll probably rent a car down here and I still need to get about a month and a half worth of clothes.

“When you grow up and people ask you what you want to do, I would always say ‘play football,’” he added. “I’ve had a lot of support from my family, friends and coaches. It’s been a dream come true.”

Jose said the big break couldn’t have come to a more deserving person.

“He’s worked his tail off,” he said. “Everyone’s in his corner because of the type of kid that he is. He has a great family that supports him and would literally do anything for him, too, so it’s kind of circular in that way. It couldn’t have happened to a better kid.”

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