There were times over the last few years when North Texas linebacker Larry Nixon III felt like he was running out of steam.
Nixon is in his fifth season with the Mean Green, has started for three and has made plenty of plays along the way.
Nixon just didn’t feel the passion for the game like he does now, a change the former Richland High standout attributes to the arrival of No. 4.
Larry Nixon IV was born in March.
“I have a little boy now,” Nixon said. “That’s what I think about. I’ve been here for five years. It had been tough for me to stay in it, but now I have a purpose.”
The latest in the line of Nixons will be on his father’s mind when UNT hosts Florida Atlantic on Saturday at Apogee Stadium in a key game for the Mean Green.
UNT (2-3) endured a tough ride through nonconference play, dropping games to UNLV as well as SMU and Memphis — two teams that will become conference rivals when the Mean Green join the American Athletic Conference next summer.
UNT has an opportunity to turn its season around when it resumes Conference USA play against FAU. The Mean Green beat UTEP in their conference opener back in August and can jump into the thick of the C-USA title race with a win over the Owls (2-3, 1-0).
Nixon will be a key part of UNT’s plans to reach that goal after the best series of games in his career. He posted 15 tackles in a win over Texas Southern in the third week of the season and has at least five stops in each game this year.
KD Davis has been UNT’s most productive defensive player while racking up 43 tackles. Nixon has been a reliable complement while posting 38 stops.
“Larry loves ball and is passionate about it,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “It’s easy to see when you watch him in practice with the energy he shows. He and KD have been great. They elevate each other.”
Playing a part in that one-two punch is a whole lot more rewarding for Nixon now that he has a son.
“It makes me go harder every play,” Nixon said. “I’m playing for my team first, but then I’ve got him. I’m trying to do some good things for him. He gives me something to fight for.”
That added motivation has helped Nixon capitalize on what has been a more comfortable situation this fall. UNT brought on a new defensive coaching staff ahead of last season under the direction of coordinator Phil Bennett.
Nixon is much more comfortable with his role in Bennett’s defense and has a better feel for how he fits into the system now. He credits his growth in part to Jim Gush, UNT’s veteran linebackers coach and Bennett’s longtime right-hand man.
“I’ve had three or four coaches now,” Nixon said. “All of them told me different things. I finally have somebody who is telling me not what I want to hear, but things that will work for me. Coach Gush and I bump heads sometimes, but he is one of the best.”
The comfort zone Nixon has found has enabled him to become a leader among UNT’s players. He’s the veteran now, not to mention a new father.
Mazin Richards transferred to UNT from Eastern New Mexico and changed positions, from defensive end to linebacker. The former Division II standout has a team-high two sacks and has been among UNT’s most productive players. He credits his growth in part to Nixon.
“Larry was one of the first players to help me with coverages, which I never had been in before,” Richards said. “He broke it down for me and really helped me throughout fall camp.
“He’s a true leader on defense.”
Nixon has thrived in that role and helped UNT take a step forward defensively after a tough outing in a 58-27 loss to UNLV on Sept. 17. The Rebels scored touchdowns on six of seven possessions in one stretch.
UNT came back last week to limit Memphis to 334 total yards. The Tigers scored 21 points off Mean Green turnovers, including two interception returns for touchdowns.
Nixon finished with six tackles against Memphis and helped UNT take a step forward defensively. He’ll look to build on that outing against FAU while capitalizing on the motivation his son has provided.
“I’m taking a much more serious approach and am trying to get my job done every game,” Nixon said. “The coaches have always told me the sky is the limit. I have to show what I can do.”
Striving to reach that goal while watching his son grow has made the experience better.
“It’s been rewarding,” Nixon said, “to have a good year with my son here.”