UConn defensive back Dixon-Williams taking on more responsibility on and off the field

Aug. 5, 2023
STORRS — Malik Dixon-Williams is excited for the birth of his daughter, who is due Dec. 20.
"Bowl season," Dixon-Williams said with a smile Saturday.
Dixon-Williams — a 6-foot, 203-pound redshirt junior defensive back — has grown as a player since arriving from Orlando, Florida to play for the UConn football team. A year ago, he helped the Huskies earn their first bowl bid since 2015.
He's ready for the added responsibilities this season — on and off the field.
"I've got a daughter on the way so there's a different motivation going on this year," Dixon-Williams said. "Personally, I have a lot of stuff to step up on. I have to step up as a man and as a person.
"As a player I need to develop physically and mentally. I came in (in 2019) at about 170 pounds and now I'm 203. So physically I'm there. Mentally I'm getting better each and every day. I'm going to be great."
Dixon-Williams is in his third season as a starter.
He made 58 tackles — including a career-high 11 against Army — and an interception against Houston as a redshirt freshman in 2021. A year ago he had 90 tackles (49 solo tackles), which ranked fourth on the team, and interceptions against Ball State and against Marshall in the Myrtle Beach Bowl as well as six pass break-ups. He matched his career-high of 11 tackles in the losses to Utah State and North Carolina State. He made eight tackles in the upset of nationally-ranked Liberty that made UConn bowl eligible.
The Huskies play their 2023 season opener Aug. 31 when they entertain North Carolina State at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
"Over the break I wanted to learn the defense schematically, not just my position but everyone's position," Dixon-Williams said. "We want all want to come together and be on the same page and win games. Mentally, I feel like I know more. That will help my game.
"We want to move faster as a defense. We want to be explosive. We want to look like when you watch film we look crazy. We've got a lot of speed in the DB room. We've got guys who want to play and want to get better. We're going to compete."
Coach Jim Mora will again run the defense, which showed improvement throughout his first season here.
The Huskies expect more improvement the second time around.
"These guys are moving, they're another year in the system," UConn defensive line coach Kenny McClendon said. "They're getting more comfortable. We like where we are but we have to keep getting better."
The offense seemed to get the better of the defense in Saturday's scrimmage with quarterback Ta'Quan Roberson — who was lost for the season with a knee injury in the second possession of the opener at Utah State last year — among those who impressed.
Dixon-Williams spoke about how he got beat on a play by James Burns, a graduate transfer wide receiver from Austin Peay.
"He's a speed guy," Dixon-Williams said. "I had him in one-on-one and he blew right past me. So he told me, 'Get your hands out,' and I told him, 'I appreciate you.' That's what is going to make us better. He showed me a way to guard him and that will help me with guys like him."
Dixon-Williams' roommate is linebacker Jackson Mitchell, the Huskies' top tackler.
"So I get all the insight with the linebackers," Dixon-Williams said with a laugh. "He's a great roommate. We hang out, we learn, we talk ball, we chill."
As the Huskies worked out Saturday, conference alignment chaos was all around. On Friday, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah joined the Big 12. Oregon and Washington joined the Big Ten. Those two moves left the Pac-12 at four schools.
UConn has been rumored to be in the Big 12 mix
"Me? That's above my pay grade," said McClendon, who was a graduate assistant coach at Iowa State of the Big 12. "Movement and change for the betterment of the kids is good. Universities trying to push themselves to compete at the highest level is outstanding.
"The focus for us is being successful on the field and our guys know that. That's what we can control, being successful on the field."
So while increasing the win total from one to six and getting to a bowl a year ago was good, Dixon-Williams and his teammates are far from satisfied.
"We didn't go 7-6, we went 6-7," Dixon-Williams said. "We still had a losing record. We need to keep improving, keep getting better. We'll get to where we want to be.
"We have to show we want to win, that we're a team that just won't roll over. N.C. State might look at us as just another team in Week 1 and they might be thinking about Week 2 right now. We want to prove we're here to compete."
Holtz joins Northwestern program
Former UConn coach Skip Holtz is back in the college game.
Holtz, who guided the Huskies from 1994 to 1998, was named as a special assistant to the head coach by Northwestern interim coach David Braun on Thursday. With the Wildcats, Holtz will have a number of responsibilities including game preparation, day-to-day operations of the program and advising Braun.
Braun was named the interim head coach after the Big Ten school fired Pat Fitzgerald on July 11 following an investigation into hazing allegations.
"With his many years of head coaching experience and tremendous knowledge of the game, Coach Holtz will be an invaluable resource for myself, our coaching staff and student-athletes during the upcoming season," Braun said in a statement. "I'm thrilled to welcome Coach Holtz to Evanston and can't wait to begin working with him."
The new role will not interfere with Holtz's current position as head coach of the United States Football League's Birmingham Stallions.
Holtz started his 22-year career as a college head coach at UConn and compiled a 34-23 record in his five seasons and led the Huskies to the 1998 Division I-AA playoffs, UConn's first postseason appearance. He resigned after the season to be an assistant for his father, Lou, at South Carolina.
He would later serve as head coach at East Carolina (2005-09), South Florida (2010-12), and Louisiana Tech (2013-21). His overall college record is 152-121 with two conference championships and 12 bowl game appearances along with the Huskies' postseason berth.
The last two years Holtz has coached the Stallions to back-to-back USFL championships with a record of 17-3.
"I love coaching football and am passionate about leading young men to achieve their very best," Holtz said in a statement. "This is a unique opportunity to help these outstanding student-athletes and partner with Coach Braun to do anything I can to help Northwestern football in 2023."
The Wildcats open the 2023 season at Rutgers on Sept. 3.

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