Heart and Soul

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 9, 2004

Donald Ray Mixon has used grit and determination to find success throughout his young life.

Whether on the gridiron, the diamond or on the hard court, Mixon has always excelled.

As head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Georgiana High School, Mixon uses the same mentality to teach Panther athletes.

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&uot;I want my players to play like I did by giving 100 percent all the time because you never know who’s watching,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;That’s what I try to tell them because you never know who’s watching. They need to give 100 percent, play with a lot of heart and dedication. If they do those things, they’ll be successful.&uot;

Mixon’s received his hard-working philosophy from his father, who always told his son to never let up because &uot;you never know who’s watching.&uot;

&uot;It could be three or four years after high school and somebody might like the way you hustled on the field and give you a job,&uot; Mixon said.

Childhood Days

Mixon, 25, was born and raised in Owassa, a small community outside of Evergreen.

Like many small towns, Mixon said sports were just about all that children had to occupy their time.

&uot;The only thing we had was ball,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;We played football, basketball and baseball. I also liked to fish and hunt a little bit. There was nothing to do.&uot;

At the youthful age of eight, Mixon began playing Pee Wee football, which seemed to come naturally to him. As quarterback, he quickly developed leadership skills.

&uot;I used to try to imitate people off TV,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I could play pretty good, so I guess that’s one reason I liked football so much.&uot;

Two years later, Mixon started playing Little League Baseball, which he also picked up quickly. As a pitcher, he had the opportunity to display his arm as well as at shortstop.

&uot;We weren’t that good at baseball,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;When we went to the All-Star games, we couldn’t compare to Opp, Andalusia or Brewton.&uot;

Even though football would later earn Mixon college recognition, he immediately fell in love with baseball.

&uot;I enjoyed baseball and still enjoy it,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I love it to death. I don’t know too many people that can sit down and watch a whole nine innings of baseball on TV, but I can.&uot;

Mixon helped lead his Little League teams to two City of Evergreen championships.

School Days

Following elementary school, Mixon enrolled at Lyeffion Middle School. In the seventh grade, the multi-sport athlete added basketball to his already busy schedule.

&uot;Evergreen’s not a baseball town, it’s really a basketball town,&uot; Mixon said.

Just like in football and baseball, Mixon took on the task of another leadership role as point guard.

Mixon continued to play all three sports throughout high school while attending Hillcrest-Evergreen, but on the gridiron is where he shined the brightest.

Despite being only 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, Mixon’s potential at the high school level was noticed early. In fact, he earned a starting role early on and was never sidelined.

&uot;I never missed a game,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I got banged up, but never missed a game. I started every game from ninth grade to twelfth grade.&uot;

Mixon started the first game of his freshman year against Daphne at free safety as he battled for the starting quarterback job during practice. The following game against Southern Choctaw, he got the starting nod at quarterback and maintained the position until he graduated.

&uot;I just loved to play football,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;When I was out there on the field, I gave 100 percent. I still do now. I love the competition and love to be competitive.&uot;

During his first season as starting trigger puller for Hillcrest, Mixon led the Jaguars to only a 3-7 record. The Jaguars improved their gridiron record the following season by one win.

As a junior, Mixon showed off his true talents by helping lead Hillcrest to a 6-6 record, an area championship win over Greenville and a second round appearance in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s (AHSAA) Class 5A state playoffs.

During the area title game in Greenville, Mixon threw for over 250 yards, rushed for over 100 yards and scored three touchdowns.

In the first round of the AHSAA playoffs, the Jaguars, who were considered the underdogs, defeated B.C. Rain. Evergreen was eliminated from the playoffs following a close loss to Hillcrest-Evergreen.

&uot;I was competitive, I wanted to win,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I had a lot of heart. I wasn’t very big even when I went to college to play, but I had a lot of heart and determination. I wanted it. I was very competitive. It didn’t matter what it was. If we needed a first down, I was going to get every inch I could get.&uot;

The Jaguars finished .500 Mixon’s senior season in which Gridiron Greats voted him as one of the Top 100 quarterbacks throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

&uot;It felt good to be recognized for my performance on the field,&uot; Mixon said.

Mixon played his best game of his career on the gridiron the last game of his senior season against Georgiana. During that game, he passed for just over 300 yards, rushed for over 200 yards and scored four touchdowns.

&uot;I wanted to go out with a bang,&uot; Mixon said.

While playing on the high school gridiron, Mixon had the opportunity to compete against several athletes that went on to play college ball. Greenville’s Michael Feagan, who later played defensive back for Alabama was one of the more prominent players.

Mixon also played high school basketball and baseball, but Evergreen never advanced to the AHSAA state playoffs in either sport. Even though the Jaguars didn’t make the postseason, Mixon played against some stiff competition.

One of the most dominating pitchers Mixon recalls was Charles Henderson alum Brian Meadows, who he faced as a freshman.

Meadows was later selected in the third round of the 1994 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Florida Marlins.

&uot;He was unreal,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I didn’t know a man could throw a baseball that fast. He was throwing between 95 mph and 100.&uot;

Mixon also played against hard-throwing pitcher, Ryan Hawkins, who played for Flomaton. Hawkins, who also threw in the upper 90s, signed with the San Diego Padres.

Following his senior year, Mixon, who was known for his consistent bat, was invited to play for Brewton’s American Legion travel team.

&uot;It was real fun,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I got to play against and play with a lot of good players. We got to travel as well.&uot;

The American Legion team played between 50 and 60 games the summer following Mixon’s senior season. Although it was hard work, Mixon said it was a great experience.

&uot;It wore you out,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;At Hillcrest, we scheduled 12-to-14 baseball games. That’s it. I loved it. It was tiresome, but I loved it.&uot;

Mixon finished his senior season with six homeruns and slapped two homers for the American Legion team.

College Bound

Throughout Mixon’s senior season on the gridiron, he was recruited by several college teams including West Alabama, North Alabama, Albany State in Georgia and Cumberland University in Tennessee.

Following graduation in 1997, the Jaguars’ star quarterback chose to sign a scholarship with West Alabama.

&uot;I took a visit over there and I liked the campus and the facilities,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;Plus I had some friends go over there.&uot;

Even though Mixon also loved baseball, he decided to focus more on football early in high school in hopes of earning a football scholarship.

&uot;I wanted to play football,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;If I had went to school somewhere else that focused on baseball a lot, I probably would have done something with baseball.&uot;

Mixon was redshirted his first season at West Alabama. He entered spring practices the following year as fourth string quarterback and earned the second spot by the end of spring training.

Heading into the fall, Mixon was named the Tigers’ starter, but he chose to forgo the remainder of his collegian career.

&uot;I didn’t get hurt,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I just stopped playing and started concentrating more on my school work.&uot;

Although Mixon still enjoys football, he said he doesn’t &uot;regret&uot; stopping playing the game.

&uot;Football changed my life,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;Without football I probably would have got into trouble.&uot;

As a result of quitting football, Mixon lost his scholarship, but continued to work hard in college and graduated with a bachelor’s in physical education in 2002. He said children and football inspired him to pursue a degree in teaching.

&uot;I like helping children,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I also wanted to coach. In order for me to coach, I had to teach, so I got my degree in physical education. I like helping children and teaching the right way.&uot;

Time to Teach

Directly following graduation, Principal Preston Fluker offered Mixon the assistant football coach’s job at his alma mater. Mixon turned it down.

&uot;It would have been odd for me to walk through town and see all my students,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I figured I didn’t want to do that right then.&uot;

Shortly thereafter, Fluker spoke with Georgiana High School Principal Roland Pettie and recommended Mixon for a coaching job with the Panthers. Within a couple of weeks, Mixon was hired.

&uot;Georgiana has been good,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I’ve got a good head coach, Coach (Keith) York, whose taught me a lot of stuff I need to know.&uot;

Even though Mixon is entering his third year as a teacher at Georgiana, he’s already had the opportunity to coach with some of his old coaches. William Wall, who coached defensive backs and quarterbacks at Hillcrest when Mixon played football, served as Georgiana’s defensive coordinator last season. Mixon said it was odd working with one of his coaches.

&uot;It was strange,&uot; Mixon, who’s currently the Panthers’ defensive coordinator, said. &uot;He coached me and then we coached together.&uot;

Mixon said the most memorable moment on the gridiron as a coach was last year’s victory over No. 1-ranked Southern Choctaw last season on the road to snap the Indians’ 17-game win streak.

&uot;It was like a dream,&uot; Mixon said.

Mixon also serves as the Panthers’ head baseball coach and after only two years he has helped the program grow by leaps and bounds. Last season, Georgiana finished one win away from advancing to the Class 2A state playoffs.

&uot;I don’t think Georgiana has made the playoffs in baseball in 20 years,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I’m trying to rebuild the baseball program and trying to get children excited about it.&uot;

Working on Georgiana’s sandlot of a baseball facility is next on Mixon’s list.

&uot;The children deserve a whole lot more,&uot; Mixon said.

As for Mixon’s future at Georgiana, he’s in no hurry to leave.

&uot;This is my third year and after this year I could be tenured,&uot; Mixon said. &uot;I would love to get a head football coaching job. That’s my goal, but until then I’m fine where I’m at. I like the people here.&uot;