IOWA CITY – Riley Dixon has been playing football with many of his Iowa City Regina teammates for about 10 years.
They started together in a flag-football league in North Liberty in second and third grade. He wants to see that continue for two more weeks.
The talented senior running back has been a vital part in the Regals success the last two seasons, powering the offense and helping Regina win 53 straight games during a run of three straight state titles. The Class 1A top-ranked Regina will attempt to secure a fourth consecutive trip to the UNI-Dome with an Iowa High School Athletic Association state quarterfinal against No. 4 Maquoketa Valley on Friday night at Delhi, beginning at 7 p.m.
Dixon said it is unbelievable to share a strong bond with his teammates on and off the field. He realizes it won’t be the same when he moves on to play in college.
“It’s something a high-schooler wishes they can go through and none of us are taking it for granted,” Dixon said. “You go home at night and go to bed. You know you get to wake up and you have that to go to. … I’ll miss it for sure. It’s one heck of a game.”
Dixon was an all-state performer for the Regals 1A state title team. He led Regina’s rush attack last year with 1,641 on 230 carries and 14 TDs. He saw some action as a sophomore, gaining 115 yards on the ground. Dixon has similar numbers this season, despite missing more than two games to injury. He has ran 1,385 total yards, including 1,170 on the ground with 15 total TDs.
“I just feel quicker, Dixon said. “I think I’m a little faster than last year. Maybe a little (elusive).”
He gave the Regals a lot of experience in the backfield. The role has expanded, putting him the slot and catching more passes and working in Jake Brinkman, Michael Adam and Nick Phillips.
“He’s a dynamic guy,” Cook said of Dixon. “He’s got some shake to him. It’s a nice complement with the other backs we have.”
In addition to having fond memories of those flag-football days with Brinkman, senior Mike Sehl and others, he recalls watching for Regal Michael O’Connell play in the UNI-Dome. Dixon was in middle school and looked up to O’Connell, who went on to play at Iowa State.
“I wish I was as good as Mike,” said Dixon, who remains in contact with him. “He’s my mentor. Him, and all the running backs that have been through Regina, I try to model after them and the stuff they were able to accomplish.”
Dixon has proven that he can take a game over with one long run. He averages 8.7 yards per carry, boasting a 64-yard TD run. His longest runs came in a 38-0 win over 3A power Solon. Dixon was held to just 36 yards, getting less than three yards per carry, through the first three quarters. He bolted for a 64-yard score and then opened the next possession with a 70-yard jaunt that led to another touchdown.
He praised his offensive line for his big-play ability, leading to 30 runs of 10 yards or more including 13 of those going for more than 25 yards. The zone-blocking game can open things up later in the game.
“All that credit goes to the offensive line,” Dixon said. “They get on the other team’s line and linebackers and I can reach the second level. That’s what happened at Solon.
“I honestly didn’t get touched the whole way. The hole was as big as a yellow school bus, so anybody could have done that. It is a big play and our line wears on guys and finishing plays and blocks. They make that right block at the right time.”
According to Cook, Dixon has great vision to see running lanes. He has the ability to make tacklers miss in traffic. A competitive spirit helps lead the Regals offense on the field when the ball is snapped.
“He’s an emotional guy,” Cook said. “He plays with passion. He has a strong will to win.”
It was apparent when he returned from a sprained ankle suffered during the opening half against West Branch in Week 3. Dixon was sidelined for two weeks coming back a week ahead of schedule to provide a boost to the Regals in a 49-12 non-district win at Alburnett. Dixon had 73 total yards, including 67 on the ground and two touchdowns, coming in after about the fourth series.
“He went and had a nice game for us,” Cook said. “He showed on a bit of a sloppy field he can bring a spark to our offense.”
Cook said he thought Dixon’s best game came in the biggest regular-season matchup in a battle of then-unbeaten teams at Wilton. Dixon rushed for 280 yards, including three TDs, and averaged 13.3 yards per carry. He added 48 receiving yards on three catches. Dixon has raised his performance for big games.
“I think he does look forward to those games,” said Cook, noting that the Regals have played in many big games in football and other sports. “He does elevate in those games at times.”
The next big game is against an impressive Wildcat team in a rematch of last year’s state quarterfinal. Maquoketa Valley presents a great running attack, led by junior Ryan Parmely, who leads 1A with 2,402 yards and is near the top with 23 TDs. Quarterback Ben Dzaboff has added 598 yards on the ground.
Dixon said the Wildcats are tough and the Regals will have to be at their best. He is not ready for the season to end yet, hoping to return to the UNI-Dome and inch Regina close to the state’s all-time win streak, which is 55 in a row by Waterloo East, which went 56 consecutive games without a loss from 1965-71.
“We’re never going to have this again,” Dixon said about the team’s camaraderie. “Hopefully, we’re fortunate enough to make it to the Dome.”