When a person is given a nickname, it becomes a brand of sorts. Like a verbal tattoo that tells everyone what kind of person lies behind the nickname. Some people live up to it; some don’t.
That’s why they call him Ha-Ha.
And that’s what they were screaming Saturday (Oct. 1) night when a large group of friends and family converged on The Swamp in Gainesville where the Crimson Tide wore down the
Florida Gators 38-10 in a key SEC battle.
Clinton-Dix, the former high school all-American at Orlando Dr. Phillips, obviously enjoyed every minute of it. He played mostly special teams and had one solo tackle in the first half.
He was one of the last 'Bama players off the field after the game, his big grin widening ear-to-ear with every familiar face he saw. He paused briefly to acknowledge a Sentinel reporter as he headed out the visitor's tunnel at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. (Alabama coach Nick Saban has a rule that freshman players are not allowed conduct media interviews.)
His mom was in the stands, along with a group of about 20 friends and family members, many of whom she said are Gator fans.
“There will be like 20 of us, family and friends, watching him up there,” said mom, Nicole Dix on Thursday. “Coach Lo [Wood] is going, the Pattis (Dr. Phillips quarterback Nick and mom and dad, Ed and Judy) are going to him see him come back home.
"Most of our family is for the Gators, so they've been texting us all week ... calling us Gator bait."
It was big game. Both SEC front-runners were 4-0 and looking for more. It was a marquee moment in the life of Ha-Ha.
”You know he almost went to Florida. They were in his top three (with
LSU and Alabama)," Mom said.
Things weren’t always a laughing matter with Clinton-Dix.
Nick Waisome, a freshman cornerback at Florida State went to Lockhart Middle School in Orlando with his buddy Ha-Ha, when he was just Ha’sean Dix.
The two friends had actually lost track of each other when Waisome and his family moved to Lake County after the eighth grade. Waisome eventually became an all-American corner at Groveland South Lake High School. Clinton-Dix, who started out at Orlando Edgewater, eventually transferred to Dr. Phillips, where he too garnered all-American honors as a safety.
They found each other two years ago when the pair’s names showed up as the Nos. 2 and 3 players in the Sentinel’s 2011 Central Florida Super60 rankings. Waisome and Clinton-Dix reunited in the spring of 2009 as teammates on the Central Florida all-star 7-on-7 team the Big Timers. Things had changed.
“Yeah, I used to be bigger than him,” said Waisome, who is now 5-foot-10, 175 pounds. “It feels like just the other day I remember making fun of him cause he used to be smaller than me. Back then he had a little temper tantrum. He’d get mad and try to fight one of us.”
No, Clinton-Dix, now 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, wasn’t always carefree. His defining moment, however, may have been during his sophomore year at Edgewater High School, where he played running back as a freshman and sophomore.
Youth leader Chris Wallace remembers one night during a lock-in night with the youth group Man Up, a group involving youngsters and older mentors, like Clinton-Dix.
“He came to me and wanted me to call his mom. He said, ‘I don’t want to hang out here,’ ” Wallace said. “We called his mom to come get him but we spoke to him for a while in the parking lot. We told him, ‘These kids look up to you. They want to do what you do.’ I don’t know if it was that talk or what, but it’s like at some point a light clicked for him.”
“The Man Up program was good for him,” says Mom. “It was all a big change for him and he didn’t realize what a big reflection he had on the kids, as far as going to school, being positive, and doing the right things. He always had the naysayers telling him, ‘You’re not going to make it, you can’t do it.”
The area Eatonville kids, however, kept him focused. Knowing they looked up to him, he wanted to make sure he stayed the course. He was one of the hardest workers coaches had ever seen at Dr. Phillips.
“He never realized why little kids were wanting his autograph and always hugging him when he came around,” mom said. “Now he knows, and to all the ones who told him he couldn’t do it, he can just say, ‘Look at me now.’ ”
Yep, standing tall, in the No. 6 Crimson Tide uniform.
“Even when he got to be the big star and everything, he still came around,” Wallace said. “He would leave his own practice every Thursday at Dr. Phillips and then head over to one of the JV games to watch the kids. He would bring his friends, like Dee Hart (his best friend, also at Alabama now, out with a torn ACL) with him and they’d talk to the kids.
“He was always involved with the kids. He encouraged them to keep their heads up … to do the right thing.”
And conversely, the kids had an impact on Clinton-Dix.
“He would text me and tell me the kids motivate him a lot because they look up to him and he has to set a good example,” Wallace said.
He’s certainly doing that now, on one of the biggest stages in college football. He’s a freshman getting playing time at Alabama. In the first five games he has six total tackles, as well as two pass break-ups and two pass deflections.
"He had a lot of mentors and a lot of groups like Man Up, he also did a Life Center Outreach," said Mom. "They always say it takes a village to raise a child and that’s what I truly believe in because I couldn’t have done it alone and he had a lot of positive people in his life ... like his grandfather (Julius Dix). He's always all over the internet looking for stuff on Ha'sean."
And don't think Ha'sean has forgetten.
“He’s so sweet. He sent me a letter after he got to Alabama,” Mom added. “It said thanks for encouraging him and being behind him and always doing whatever I could to put smile on his face.
“Hopefully, one day, the
NFL will call his name.”
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at