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Roxbury junior quarterback Grant Dixon (5) proved hard to bring down for opposing defenses as the top player in Morris County this past football season. (Photo by Nick Muscolino-nickm.smugmug.com)
Par-Hills Team, Gaels QB & Boonton Coach
Among Those Making Morris Season Special
By Sean Reilly
Player of the year: Grant Dixon was in a meeting with the Roxbury coaching staff last winter when he received some unexpected news.
Head coach Cosmo Lorusso informed the then-sophomore that the Gaels would be changing their offensive approach for the 2014 season. After looking at the team's strengths and weaknesses in certain positions, they were going to try the offense that achieved fantastic results at Auburn University.
For those familiar with Roxbury and Lorusso, the news was somewhat shocking. The coach is a Wing-t guy going all the way back to his days as a QB for the late Lou Rettino at Union in the early '80s. And Roxbury had been associated with the offense long before that.
The Auburn offense does have strong Wing-T principles, particularly in its blocking schemes, but it also gives the quarterback freedom to run and pass. It also gets receivers involved, and the backs remain active as well.
Dixon, who was still growing into his role as a starting QB after taking over the job during a 4-6 campaign in 2013, was ready for the challenge.
"I was excited," he said. "I agreed that it fit the personnel we had coming back. I had thought the Wing-t was what Roxbury had always done and was what it always would do."
The offense put plenty of responsibilities on Dixon's shoulders, but he quickly adapted to the system. Once the season began, it became clear that he was using his head just as well as he was performing with his arm and feet.
"We all worked really well together," he said. "There's also a lot of trust involved. A receiver might say he can beat a guy or we might notice something on a play that we think could work if we tried it again."
And with receivers running multiple routes, and with the blockers affording Dixon time to improvise, the possibilities on most plays were multiplied.
It helped Roxbury, with a lineup loaded with juniors, to finish 8-3 and reach the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 semifinals. The three teams it lost to -- Delbarton, Parsippany Hills and Paramus -- all played in championship games at MetLife Stadium, with Par Hills winning the North 2, Group 3 title. A fourth opponent who played in the Meadowlands was North 1, Group 3 winner Sparta. The Spartans were perfect this year other than a 24-21 loss to Roxbury on opening day, when the Gaels overcame a 21-0 deficit entirely in the fourth quarter.
Dixon ended the year 129-of-215 passing for 2,270 yards and 27 TDs against seven interceptions. He obliterated most of the school's passing records by Halloween. He also ran 118 times for 564 yards and five additional scores.