UA players tackle big game

“Domenik Hixon promoted the University of Akron when he appeared in a commercial for UA on the heels of the football program’s first Mid-American Championship in 2005. The commercial spot debuted during the second half of Super Bowl XL. On Sunday, Hixon and Chase Blackburn, a senior defensive captain for the Zips in 2004, will promote UA in a different manner.”

Domenik Hixon promoted the University of Akron when he appeared in a commercial for UA on the heels of the football program’s first Mid-American Championship in 2005. The commercial spot debuted during the second half of Super Bowl XL.

On Sunday, Hixon and Chase Blackburn, a senior defensive captain for the Zips in 2004, will promote UA in a different manner. The two former Zips are now members of the National Football Conference Champion New York Giants and will play on the team’s special teams units against the AFC champions New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Different routes, same destination

Hixon and Blackburn were not highly coveted NFL prospects at the end of their collegiate careers, and each took a different road to get to Glendale, Ariz., this weekend.

Blackburn was signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent in June 2005 and was named to the team’s active 53-man roster at the conclusion of training camp. The Marysville, Ohio, native made an immediate impact on the Giants. He played on the team’s special teams units in the 2005 season opener against Arizona.

Blackburn credits his personal success and the team’s playoff run this season to hard work and dedication.

I have always taken pride in what I do, and the path that we have taken so far is just the same way, Blackburn said through New York Giants communications representative Craig Falicon. It has been a workmanship attitude the whole way through, like a blue collar work attitude, and just persevering through everything.

The free-agent invitee would go on to play 15 games in 2005, including two starts at middle linebacker in place of injured starter Antonio Pierce.

Blackburn said that the two starts have been his biggest accomplishments in his young NFL career.

That was probably the highlight of my career so far, he said. I just work every week like I am going to be starting, and when I got a chance to go out there, I just took advantage of the opportunity.

Blackburn has remained a consistent special teams contributor for the past three seasons.

Despite being drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Hixon’s journey has been rockier than that of his college and professional teammate. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiver injured his foot during pre-draft workouts. The injury ended up costing him his rookie season, as the Broncos placed him on the non-football injury list at the end of November 2006.

With the injury behind him, Hixon established himself as the Broncos starting punt returner and a starter on the kick-return team going into week one of the 2007 NFL season against the Buffalo Bills.

His first NFL regular-season game, however, is surely one Hixon wishes went differently. After returning the second half kickoff, Hixon was tackled by Bills reserve tight end Kevin Everett, who fell to the turf upon contact and had to be taken off the field via ambulance. Everett suffered a fracture dislocation in his neck and damage to his spinal cord.

The injury affected Hixon on and off the field. The former Zip was released by Denver on Oct. 2. The New York Giants claimed him off of waivers the following day, offering him a fresh start in a new city.

When asked about his unusual path to Super Bowl XLII, the always humble Hixon reiterated his appreciation for the opportunities he’s been given.

It is definitely a blessing, Hixon said, also through Falicon. I am just glad to have the opportunity to play in the NFL, to play football and to play in the Super Bowl.

Beating the odds

Blackburn and Hixon each conquered their own obstacles to get in position to help the Giants make their surprise playoff run.

Blackburn’s 22 tackles this season rank him 16th on the team. He also registered two tackles in the Giants NFC Championship-clinching victory at Green Bay Jan 20.

Hixon has left his imprint on the Giants in just 12 games. He had a career-day in the team’s regular-season finale Dec. 29 against the Patriots. The kick-returner scored his first NFL touchdown on a 74-yard kickoff return, amassed 221 yards and recorded two special teams tackles in New York’s 35-38 defeat.

Shoot, a great feeling and also definitely a blessing, Hixon said of his performance in front of a live national audience. I thank God for it and it was very exciting.

UA’s fourth-year head football coach J.D. Brookhart said that he’s excited for and proud of the former Zips players.

Playing in the Super Bowl is exciting for both Domenik and Chase as well as being exciting for our program, Brookhart said in a news release distributed by UA’s athletics department. Both Domenik and Chase have proven to be valuable contributors to the Giants and I am not surprised by their success.

Both players said they appreciate making this run together – not simply as former college and now NFL teammates – but as friends.

It is great just to reminisce and to talk about Akron, and how much fun we had there and how much fun we are having here, Hixon said. It is great to have a former teammate and friend.

It has been great, Blackburn said echoing the sentiments of his teammate. After the year that he has had, he had an up and down year this year, and having him come back after being out of Denver and getting over here. I think he is pretty happy to be a Giant now.

Hixon said that that the success of both former Zips proves that players from smaller college programs can achieve success at football’s highest level.

I think it really shows a credit to what the University of Akron is all about, he said. We are both from Columbus too, but it just shows that guys can come from smaller schools, and maybe not as well-known schools, and can play in the NFL.

Dwight Smith is the only other former Zip to play in a Super Bowl. Smith was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they defeated the Oakland Raiders 41-28 in Super Bowl XXXVII. The 5-foot-10, 201-pound defensive back’s two interceptions were central in the game’s outcome.

Blackburn was quick to point out Smith’s Super Bowl resume when asked about his thoughts on him and Hixon representing UA to a worldwide audience.

It is going to be great because we don’t get a lot of opportunities to have that, he said. I know Dwight Smith was from Akron, and he got into the Super Bowl and had two picks. I think both of them were for touchdowns, actually.

It will be interesting to see what we can do.


” #1.1361370:2575760682.jpg:20080131_CHASE BLACKBURN.jpg:Chase Blackburn at the Super Bowl press day.:MCT”