Famous names: Dean Smith, Mason Dixon lead Big Foot
Senior Dean Smith and sophomore Mason Dixon share names with a college basketball coaching legend from North Carolina and the former line of demarcation between the North and South.
What isn't a coincidence is the impact the two players have had on the continued success of Big Foot's football program this season.
The pair will help lead the Chiefs (7-2) as they begin defense of their WIAA Division 4 state championship by hosting Lake Mills (5-4) at 7 tonight.
Smith has been down this road before. It was the same scenario a year ago when Big Foot played the L-Cats in the first round. The Chiefs won,
35-7, and obviously hope for a repeat performance.
"I believe that if we come together and really act as a team, and everyone does their own job, it's just going to be normal Big Foot football," Smith said.
The 6-1, 295-pound Smith, a starter in the offensive and defensive lines since his sophomore year, said he'll rely on his experience to get him through another playoff run.
Big Foot coach Rodney Wedig calls Smith the best lineman to come through the Big Foot program since Travis Frederick graduated two years ago. Considering Frederick is now part of the University of Wisconsin football program, that's high praise.
Smith remembers taking a few lumps while being paired up with Frederick in practice as an underclassman, but he says he also learned a lot.
"He's a senior now, and he's really our stable guy," Wedig said of Smith, an All-Rock Valley South first-team selection on offense and defense last season. "He's our leader. He comes to practice every day and brings it."
On game nights, Smith has turned the Big Foot football field into his personal "Dean Dome" (as in the well-known arena in North Carolina), where the Chiefs have not lost a conference game since 2005 while winning 29 straight Rock Valley games overall.
As for Dixon, he fittingly helped Big Foot rule the North and South again this season. The Chiefs just completed another 7-0 run through the Rock Valley, which gave them their third consecutive South championship and fourth straight in the conference overall. Along the way, they knocked off North co-champion McFarland this season, just as they did North co-champion Jefferson a year ago.
Dixon was just a freshman last year when Big Foot rolled to a 14-0 season record, including a 42-13 victory over previously unbeaten Kewaunee in the state championship game. He'll play a much larger role this time in the title defense.
Dixon led the team in rushing attempts during the regular season with 72 and was second in rushing yardage with 621, while scoring eight touchdowns. He creates a formidable 1-2 backfield punch with junior Kenneth Walker, who has averaged more than 10 yards a carry in rolling up 714 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Wedig was surprised that Dixon contributed at such a high level this season. The coach figured the 5-9, 175-pound standout would be on the junior varsity, not quite ready for the varsity's spread, read-option offense.
But after watching one JV game, Wedig brought Dixon up to the varsity.
"I thought he was going to be a three-yard-and-a-cloud-of-dust guy, and he's running for 50, 60 yards sometimes," Wedig said. "That's great when you've got a fullback that can be a home-run hitter like that."
In a twist of fate with a name like Mason Dixon, there's also that 5-0 record against the South and 2-0 mark against the North in the Rock Valley this season.
But now, the attention turns to Lake Mills as Big Foot begins to focus on a return trip to Madison after also being the 2008 state runner-up in Division 4.
"I think we need to push ourselves more because it's going to be a lot harder team, I predict," Dixon said of the battle with Lake Mills. "Just more effort from the team, more focus, and then just get better every day."
Lake Mills heads into its match-up at Big Foot after going 3-2 in the Capitol North. But the L-Cats are coming off a major upset of Lodi, 33-27, which gave them their playoff position.
And despite his Chiefs having half the number of losses as the upcoming opponent, Wedig knows his team can't overlook the L-Cats.
"I know they beat Lodi, and obviously Lodi is one of the better Division 4 programs in the state. So that tells me that they're a very good team," Wedig said. "It's a tough draw for us, but it's nice to get a home playoff game."
At the "Dean Dome," no less.