Viera’s Nixon cements legacy as first Hawk drafted into NFL

Tre Nixon starred at both Viera High School and UCF.

It was the second day of the NFL Draft, and instead of sitting at home in preparation for that night’s round of picks, former Viera High football star Tre Nixon spent part of his afternoon talking to the players who currently play for the Hawks.

Nixon’s message was simple. It was just a few years ago that he was in their shoes and you don’t need to be the fastest, strongest or biggest player to succeed.

“If you put your mind to it and put in the work, you can do what I’m doing,” Nixon said he told the Hawks. “That’s the biggest thing I wanted to tell them, to motivate them. I was just a kid from Viera with a dream to go to college. God willing, look where I am now.”

A day later, on May 1, Nixon got the call he had been waiting for his whole life. The New England Patriots had selected the UCF wide receiver with pick No. 242 in the seventh round. He’s the first former Viera player to ever be drafted by the NFL.

So, you see … dreams really can come true.

“We were all quiet,” Jean Meranda, Nixon’s mother, said about the life-changing phone call. “We just sat there and we were looking at him and we realized it was (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick.

“Of course, the tears started coming. I knew … it was like my dreams were realized. His dreams were realized.”

Meranda didn’t care in what round her son was drafted. After seeing him work so hard through youth football and his time at Viera, Ole Miss and then UCF, she just wanted to see him get that chance.

Kevin Mays, who was Nixon’s coach at Viera, was there that day, too. It was the second player Mays has seen get the phone call, the first being former Palm Bay High star Joe Cohen.

“It’s amazing to me, even seeing this before, watching these guys stress and then when their name gets called, how much the weight of the world is off their shoulders and the amount of emotion that comes out,” Mays said. “It’s a really neat experience.”

Mays had heard of Nixon prior to the receiver’s freshman year at Viera, but decided to put him on the JV team initially to help build his confidence.

By the time Nixon joined the varsity team at the end of the year, he was well on his way to becoming the player Mays said is one of the best he’s ever coached.

If there has one thing that has always stood out about Nixon, Mays said, it’s how hard he works.

“When your best player is your hardest worker, you’ve got something kind of special with your team,” Mays said. “That’s the thing that impressed me about him. Even as a young guy, he had a work ethic that was special.”

Combine that hard work with the kind of speed Nixon possesses and it’s no wonder it wasn’t long until he started getting noticed by college coaches.

As Mays said, whatever “it” is, Nixon had it.

“You could tell the whole time. He had a different gear,” Mays said. “We went to Stetson (for a camp the summer between his sophomore and junior year) and you took this kid who was 6-foot-1, 150 pounds and they went and ran a 40-yard dash.

“Penn State happened to be there. He ran it and everybody looked at their clocks. ‘That ain’t right. He needs to run it again.’ He ran it again. The next thing you know, they had (Penn State head coach) James Franklin over there … all the coaches were over there, and they timed him at 4.38.

“James Franklin took him by himself and gave him his own little camp. I think he got offered by Penn State that day and the rest is history because then after that, I think everybody in the country offered him.”

During his time at Viera, Nixon and fellow seniors like Hayden Kingston, Jay Boyd, Trevor Merritt and Evan Cruz transformed the Hawks from one of Brevard County’s worst teams into one of its best with two district championships and a spot in the 2015 Class 7A championship game.

As a senior, Nixon caught 74 passes for 1,224 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was named the Florida Dairy Farmers Class 7A Player of the Year and was voted first-team All-State by both the Associated Press and USA Today.

Nixon had offers from all over the country, but initially decided to go to Ole Miss before transferring to UCF, where he was reunited with Kingston, his former quarterback at Viera.

As Nixon made his mark with the Knights, finishing his college career with 108 receptions for 1,671 yards and 13 touchdowns, Kingston said one of the biggest changes he noticed was how much Nixon grew physically.

“He was always a talented player. He was always really fast,” Kingston said. “But physically, he really became something. When we were leaving high school, he was kind of on the smaller side, physically. By the time we left UCF, he was a really well-put together football player.”

Nixon was listed at 170 pounds during his freshman year at Ole Miss. Today, the Patriots have him at 187.

One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is ability to use his speed and suddenness to get separation from defenders.

“Everybody talks about his straight-line speed, but I think his suddenness at the line of scrimmage and his suddenness getting in and out of his breaks on his routes is something that’s just different from a lot of other players out there,” Kingston said.

Ernie Adams, football research director and a Patriots front-office legend, got the chance to make New England’s final draft pick before retiring after a four-decade-long career with the organization.

He chose Nixon.

NFL Media Draft Analyst, Lance Zierlein, called Nixon’s selection one of his favorites of the entire seventh round.

In the week between the draft and the Patriots’ rookie mini-camp Nixon spent his time working out with New England’s No. 1 pick, quarterback Mac Jones of Alabama. They worked on plays and getting their timing down.

“He’s a good guy,” Nixon said of Jones. “Really smart. Obviously, that’s why they drafted him in the first round. He’s really proven. I was really blessed to come in with him as a rookie and we can both grow together, help each other out.”

As for how well he will fit into England’s offensive system, Nixon isn’t worried.

“Once you get to the NFL, the (offensive coordinator) does a good job of putting his players in the right spots to make them thrive,” he said. “I feel like in college, there are a lot of system offenses where they just plug and put. In the NFL, they know their personnel, they know everybody’s talents and use you.

“I feel like the Patriots have a history of using guys that maybe don’t have a lot of hype or aren’t the fastest, biggest strongest and fastest but they make it work.”

While seventh-round picks aren’t guaranteed to make an NFL team’s final 53-man roster, Kingston -- who is now a graduate assistant coach at Utah State -- has no doubt Nixon can make it.

“If he sticks to what got him here, he’ll have just as much success as he had in high school and college,” Kingston said. “He’ll do just fine.”

Nixon, who will become the first Viera player to have his jersey retired at a yet-to-be-determined time this fall, has created quite a legacy at his alma mater. He’s also become an inspiration.

“Definitely,” Viera wide receiver Donovan Giles said. “It shows me that somebody from Viera can make it to the NFL.”

Draft day will always be one to remember for Nixon. It was the day he realized a dream and embarked on an entirely new journey, one he will attack the way he always has – with hard work.

“It means the world to me,” Nixon said. “Every kid’s dream is to hear their name called on draft night. For me to be blessed enough for God to put me down my path to ultimately get my name called, it’s a moment I’ll never forget with my family.

“It’s crazy because you work your whole life to get your name called, but really, it’s just begun. Now, the real work starts. It’s a true job. It’s a business now.

“Everything you dreamed about; it was an amazing feeling. But now, like I said, the real work starts.”