There have been times during his first year as an Arizona State football player that Mike Nixon felt like he had just struck out on three pitches, but he does not regret his career change.
The 22-year-old true freshman, who enrolled at ASU to play football after four years in professional baseball, feels he has “gotten better every week” as an outside linebacker.
“I’ve been happy with my decision all around,” Nixon said. “I probably had my best game of the season last week. I knew it wasn’t going to come back in a week or a month, but I’ve made good progress.”
Last week against UCLA, the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Nixon, who is sharing playing time with freshman Gerald Munns at strongside linebacker, collected seven tackles, a season high.
“Mike probably played his best overall game,” Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter said. “Like the rest of our defense, he has improved all season long. Mike has huge upside. It’s been a huge adjustment, but he’s a smart, tough guy. He’ll be a good player for ASU for years to come.”
Providing leadership has been a tread-carefully process for Nixon. He is older than most of the players on the squad, but he has that “freshman” designation next to his name.
“It’s a little weird,” Nixon said. “I don’t say a lot to the older guys, but I think I got the defense a little quicker than the other freshmen did. I feel like they can come to me with any questions.
“But I don’t have a problem going to (senior linebacker) Beau Manutai if I’m having a problem. I’m a little older, but I know my place.”
Koetter continued to classify receiver/cornerback Rudy Burgess as “day to day,” but the junior, who has not played since Oct. 28 at Washington due to an ankle sprain, vowed to be ready for Saturday’s rivalry game against Arizona.
“I just need to keep building my strength and range of motion,” Burgess said. “I’m at about 80 percent right now. If I was 1 percent, I would still be on the field.”
Burgess said he was limited to “minimal reps” during practice, but got through all the drills.
Receiver Nate Kimbrough underwent surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, which was damaged at Oregon State on Nov. 4.
Kimbrough is expected to be sidelined for about eight months.
Koetter also said Tuesday that linebacker Robert James will miss the Arizona game due to a concussion.
Former ASU quarterback Danny White has a well-known vow to voluntarily never set foot in Tucson. Current QB Rudy Carpenter said he has been to the Old Pueblo once — for the 2004 Territorial Cup game — but it has nothing to do with the University of Arizona.
“It’s too far of a drive,” Carpenter said. “It might be a nice place. I don’t really know.”