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December 31, 2008MORE: U.S. Army AA Bowl coverage | Practice Galleries: East | West | More all-star coverage
SAN ANTONIO - Xavier Nixon's father, Kenneth, Sr., returned home from Afghanistan on Dec. 27 and will return overseas on Jan. 7 but in between he'll get to see his son play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and in a basketball game when the family returns to North Carolina.
The Nixon family knows about sacrifice. Both of Xavier's parents are in the Army - his father a command sergeant major and his mother, Fotini, a master sergeant.
The two met when they were drill sergeants so having their son play in this all-star game has extra meaning. Even more special is that Kenneth gets to take it all in before leaving the country again.
"Just to have the opportunity to be selected to play in this game, you can call this the Pro Bowl for high school kids, that's just awesome and I get an opportunity to see him come play in it," Kenneth said. "I usually see this on TV and now I'm living it."
When Kenneth is overseas, he receives game tapes so he can watch Xavier, the first player in Army game history to have both parents in the military, and his Fayetteville (N.C.) Jack Britt team in action. Kenneth breaks down the film, shouting at the screen and escaping from the reality outside his room - if only for a few hours.
"It's not the same but I'm so happy, I'm in the room by myself and saying, 'Yes yes,' all happy about it and saying 'Hey, Xavier, you missed that block,'" Kenneth said. "I don't feel crazy being in that room talking to myself."
Nixon is not just another player on the roster, lost in the shuffle among many of the best players in the country. He was arguably the best offensive lineman on the East squad Tuesday after missing the first day because of travel issues.
"He is the most athletic offensive lineman on the East squad bar none," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every said. "Nixon is excellent in pass protection and came in at 265 which was about 15 pounds heavier than the Chapel Hill Nike Camp.
"Whichever school gets him is not only getting a smart, high-character kid but also a great football player. He has the best long-term potential of the offensive linemen."
Rivals.com rates Nixon as the third-best offensive tackle nationally, the No. 3 prospect in the North Carolina top 30 of 2009 and the No. 40 recruit in the 2009 class. He will choose among Florida, Miami or LSU at Saturday's game which only adds to the excitement his family is experiencing this week in San Antonio.
The Gators are rumored to be the strong leader for Nixon's services and he's been to Gainesville multiple times this fall, but he did not claim a leader after Tuesday's practice. He said all three schools are even.
"I'll choose when I choose," Xavier said. "There are no favorites right now."
Fans cannot wait to hear where Nixon is headed. His parents seem to want to slow this week down as much as possible so they can enjoy every moment - as a family.
"I call him my hero," Kenneth said. "He brings tears to my eyes. We were sitting up here, all we were doing was reminiscing about when he was little, younger, he's always been big, but reminiscing about some things. Just to see him develop as a young man is just awesome."
"(Xavier) is so humble and mild-mannered and a lot of his teachers talk about him being a gentle giant, a teddy bear," Fotini said. "He's a good mentor. He loves kids, kids love him. I know I'm talking about my own son but it's true. I'm so proud of him."
Xavier said it has been difficult without his father around - Kenneth said he had been out of country since Jan. 11 - but it's made him more independent and allowed him to grow up quicker. Structure has always been a part of Nixon's life and that should only help him get acclimated to college.
Fotini, who has also done overseas tours including to Iraq, said it's hard on Kenneth being away from home, away from his son's football games and away from the family but they do their best by sending video tapes and making phone calls.
"I normally communicate with my wife during the game, after the game and before the game," Kenneth said.
Xavier said it's an honor to be playing in the Army game especially since both of his parents are in the service. They've represented the Army, he said, and now it's time for him to represent them - and he's proud to do it.
"My dad didn't get to see any of my games in person and he missed my whole basketball season last year so it was good for him to get here and see me play and see some of the guys he sees on the Internet," Xavier said.
"I really don't compare my life to anybody else's, but there has always been structure in my life. They're both former drill sergeants so you know how that goes."